Review: Metropolitan Opera's Entrancing and Enigmatic Parsifal

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 10:38 AM

René Pape as Gurnemanz in Wagner's "Parsifal." (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

Most Wagner operas show multiple faces to the world – their mythological roots, the culture of Wagner’s own time and what future generations impose upon his works – particularly in the contemplative, ritualistic redemption parable that is Parsifal. Never was Wagner more direct than in his ultra-distilled final opera, but his meaning is so open ended as to be something close to a tabula rasa.

That’s why Parsifal took so well to the symbolist approach in Francois Girard’s new Metropolitan Opera production that had opera-goers buzzing about the entrancing but enigmatic stage pictures as much as the high musical standard of the performance conducted by Daniele Gatti, with a cast headed by Jonas Kaufmann and René Pape. Surface story telling wasn’t a priority in this modern-dress, plain-clothes retelling of the guileless young man who appears out of the forest and invades a band of knights dedicated to The Holy Grail, whose injured, sin-ridden leader Amfortas bleeds anew when enacting Grail-related rituals.
 
The production borders on the surreal — laden with symbols that the opera doesn’t explicitly ask for, but throw off poetic sparks in multiple directions. And that can work with Parsifal. In Act I, silent, funeral-veiled widows stood in the corner, positioned more for their sculptural shape than their relevance to the narrative. When Parsifal enters the seductive realm of the evil magician Klingsor in Act II, he seems to be in the bottom of a canyon with a river of blood. Or is he inside Amfortas’ wound? Some have described the production as post-apocalyptic. But when Act III begins with a stage full of gravediggers, you wonder if the Grail knights have been dead all along but move between other worldly realms of mostly barren landscapes. Interestingly, the mostly-offstage chorus suggests funereal voices from temporal realms.
 
The production isn’t for everybody, but so handsomely filled this five-hour-plus opera that I was quite taken in at the Feb. 18 performance. Amid the meticulously-composed, highly-stylized stage pictures (suggesting Wieland Wagner’s famously spare, 1950s productions) was a partly-cloudy sky, its weather changes commenting on the action in this slow-moving opera. Klingsor’s flower maidens are more like warriors, simultaneously flipping their black, waist-length hair back and forth, alternately suggesting their triumph or demise. But what about Wagner’s stage directions? That battle was lost years ago, and I’d much rather see gently provocative symbols than a bunch knight costumes.
 
The production’s main drawback: It’s not singer friendly. The towering sets lack reflecting ceilings so that much vocal sound is lost in the flies. Nonetheless, Kaufmann in the title role, Pape as the knight Gurnamanz and Peter Mattei as Amfortas projected feats of word coloring suggesting they’ve deeply internalized their roles.
 
I’ve near heard Pape sing so meaningfully. Kaufmann is still finding his way into his character’s meaning — though you might not know that if you haven’t heard his incredibly authoritative singing the new Die Walkure recording on the Mariinsky label. As Kundry (the witchy mascot of the knights), Katarina Dalayman was a bit shrieky and inaccurate vocally. Evgeny Nikitin has good nasty moments as Klingsor. But the opera really belongs to conductor Gatti, who projects a burning interior core even in the orchestration’s spare moments.

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Comments [39]

Diletta from Italy

Terrible,disgusting, offensive to all

Apr. 13 2014 07:10 PM
Joyce Sin from San Gabriel, CA

The first time i saw this opera was 20006. At Berlin's Staatsoper Under den Linden. With no English sub title, no programe note, No background knowledge of this opera, I walked in cold turkey. But the emotional impact after 6 hours of watching it on stage was spellbound. Even though I have no clue of this story, just the music, the singing, and the total impression was enough to make me a fan of Richard Wagner. So happen to turn.on TV tonight and caught this Met Production. I relieve the magic of Wagner's music. This is not an ordinary opera which deal with human emotions in mega portion. This is a spiritual experience, I applaud the stage setting, not only fitting for the plot but cast an spell to the production..
All roles did exceptional well. I was out of country when Met first broadcast it in February. Now I saw it. Thank you Met for such splendid work.

Aug. 02 2013 05:34 AM
richard b. self from Washington

I attended the March 5 performance. Dalayman was ill and was replaced by Michaela Martens, who gave a strong, vivid performance, with no hesitation in the upper register.She is a new name for this writer, but she had a very good evening. It is not a production for everyone, as the carefully arranged depression as established by the sets establishes a particular theme. And, this is close to six hours of doleful drama. But it is a great opera, beautifully conceived, and with performances at the very highest level. The Met gets a 10 from this viewer.

Mar. 08 2013 11:56 AM
Kitty from Woodstock,NY

I saw the Parsifal on the Met live HD broadcast. I was mesmerized by the music and the sets. I thinkt this production of Parsifal is more about an entire image than just the singing or just the star singers. IN the first act the simple modern dress costumes gave everyone an equal importance.
The blood in the second act was grusome but beatiful. I think it represented death of the soul. The "flower" madens were all so self focused and egotistical and petty. They show that the path to salvation can never be the path where we cling to the desires of the flesh. Parsifal relizes that also.
The barreness in the third act showed that the flowers and springtime and rebirth are internal, are in each of our hearts. I liked that Kundry held The Grail, so she died redeamed.

Mar. 06 2013 11:18 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

WAGNER'S PARSIFAL is one of the rare ecumenical operas. Spirituality, rather than a specific religion, although one assumes Christianity, is the all-pervasive pedal point of this music drama.
The incandescent beauty and intoxicating spirituality are so transformational that any religious belief may be accommodated and synthesized to replicate the sense of selfless empathy for the welfare of others that the sacrificed UNICO represents to us all. That may explain why so many famous JEWISH singers GEORGE LONDON, RICHARD TAUBER, HERMANN JADLOWKER, MELANIE KURT, FRIEDRICH SCHORR, ALEXANDER KIPNIS, EMANUEL LIST, JONAS KAUFMANN, OTTILIE METZGER, LILLI LEHMANN, HERMANN WEIL, DESZO ERNSTER, HERTA GLAZ, MARGARETE MATZENAUER, SOPHIE BRASLAU, WALTER OLITZKY, GERHARD PECHNER, ESTELLE LIEBLING, MONA PAULEE, GUNTHER TREPTOW, PAULA LENCHNER, ALMA GLUCK, ADOLF ROBINSON, IRENE JESSNER, MAX BLOCH, ERNESTINE SCHUMANN-HEINK, HERMANN SCHRAMM, PAUL KALISCH, ETC], conductors LEONARD BERNSTEIN, JAMES LEVINE, ALFRED HERTZ, DANIEL BARENBOIM, GEORG SOLTI, WALTER AND LEOPOLD DAMROSCH, RICHARD FRANK GOLDMAN AND HIS FATHER THE FOUNDER OIF THE GOLDMAN BAND THAT PERFORMED BRASS INSTRUMENT VERSIONS OF THE WAGNER "REP," FRITZ REINER, SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY, BRUNO WALTER, FABIEN SEVITSKY, ERICH LEINSDORF, HERMANN LEVI, ETC. and stage directors HERBERT GRAF AND LEOPOLD SACHSE.

Mar. 05 2013 04:54 PM

I don't think Wagner was so simplistic that, for instance, regarding the meadow he wanted us to feel 'poignant gratitude for spring's flowering.' That means very little. I don't think Wagner was as much a mythmaker himself as someone who cleverly appropriated myths from Norse, Christian and even Buddhist sources. I am not devaluing Wagner's genius, especially regarding PARSIFAL, when I say that. Why should meaning be 'hard to conceptualize'? That's an intellectual dead end. Finally, I don't think most modern productions are 'annoying (at best) and scandalous (at worst).' Remember that Wagner was one of the first true modernists himself. The radical nature of his art never really can be hurt by whatever productions you might be offended by. I did see an awful production of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE at Hamburg Staatsoper years ago in which the director put the characters in---wait for it!---outer space. That's just silly, but methinks no one can claim that Girard's achievement is silly in that way.

Mar. 05 2013 04:29 AM
Kyr Arnsugr

Jonniep:

I respect the fact that visual imagery originated by directors and presented at moments when it is not specifically supported by music or text may express, and provoke consideration of, larger meanings inherent in an operatic work. I'm sure this is the basic justification offered for such imagery (such as, in this production, business shirts and slacks for Grail knights, teams of gravediggers, spears carried by flowers, strange heavenly orbs appearing and disappearing, barren meadows which all the characters describe as vegetated, blood all over everyone, etc.). But, even apart from the relevance of a particular image to the composer's meaning (and some of those mentioned are more relevant than others), it is valid to question whether being asked, or forced, by such imagery to think about, or puzzle over, the various possible meanings of a mythical work while listening to it is not a violation of the experience the composer is attempting to induce. The power of myth is a power to affect the subconscious, and no composer is more of a myth-maker than Wagner. He himself was explicit in stating that his was an art of feeling, and he pursued this ideal of opera even to the very design of his theater. In his work, as in myth itself (and in music, come to think of it), the greatest power resides in those meanings which are hardest to conceptualize. This is what makes so many modern productions of his work so annoying (at best) or scandalous (at worst). They try so hard to tell us what the work means and to "make us think" that our brains are engaged in the wrong ways at the wrong moments. There is plenty of time between the acts and after the final curtain to parse the meaning of what we have witnessed. But if, when Wagner's orchestra and Parsifal's musings fill the character, and should fill us, with gratitude for the poignant beauty of spring's flowering, we are forced to look at something akin to a desert after a nuclear war, not only Wagner's specified meaning has been sacrificed, but the very artistic means by which his meanings are conveyed.

I hope I'm making sense here. Thanks for your observations. I'd be happy to carry on this discussion.

Mar. 04 2013 10:03 PM

respectfully, Kyrn...what do you mean by "the composer's carefully chosen elements," specifically? I agree that PARSIFAL is a vast and visionary work indeed, but Girard hasnt't distorted anything (again, can you be specific?). All right, the blood business in Act 2 is a bit much, and I'm not sure the imagery suggesting planetary surfaces in Act 3 was thought out. But a second viewing has made me realise what I think Girard's intention was in Act 3. By turning the scene into a desolate landscape, not unlike what Wagner thought Europe was heading for in the 19th century, the only positive element on the entire stage (as in Act 1) is the chalice of the Grail. It is the only thing left to hope for, or to yearn for; this surely is an underlying theme in the text itself.

Mar. 04 2013 03:10 PM
Kyr Arnsugr from Grants Pass, Oregon

Why does nearly everyone talk as if trite tradition and outrageous violation of the composer's vision are the only possibilities for a new opera production? Wieland Wagner, to cite only one example, proved otherwise. Are the great works of the past so meaningless or repugnant to our "evolved" sensibilities that all producers can do is "deconstruct" and re-invent them, and all the critics can do is nod and call the resulting travesties revelations? I love "Parsifal' for what it actually is - an endlessly rich and inherently revelatory vision which can communicate its full power as Wagner conceived and wrote it. No, it does not have to (and nowadays, perhaps, should not)present postcard images of medieval Spain. But every aspect of its music, text, and mise en scene is freighted with meaning and capable of communicating that meaning in the hands of presenters who truly understand and respect the work and do not presume to replace the composer's carefully chosen elements with devices of their own. Girard may fancy he is "bringing out' the opera's inner significance; perhaps, in some details, he is. But his production as a whole contradicts in so many ways the sublimity of Wagner's music and the literal and symbolic meanings of his libretto that a vast and visionary work is distorted and diminished. I for one am not so stupid and insensible as to require that the horror of Amfortas' wound be underlined by blood flooding the stage, or that the desolation of his realm be represented by the elimination of every vestige of vegetation (about which Parsifal and Amfortas - and Wagner's glorious music - here rhapsodize to no purpose whatever). Perhaps I am not yet jaded enough (at age 63) that I must have Wagner's own choice of myths replaced by Mr. Girard's in order to escape boredom. I fervently hope that even at my last "Parsifal" I will not be so jaded. Wagner has already put quite enough in this great work for a lifetime - for all our lifetimes. Let us ask for productions that show us, creatively but also simply and beautifully, its agony and ecstasy in just proportion.

Mar. 03 2013 11:38 PM

Regarding recent comments; I've always believed that the intention of the artist---Wagner included---is of far less significance than the actual work of art itself. Whatever Wagner may have intended at the end of the 19th century is open to debate, but PARSIFAL survives precisely because his intention is transcended by the work itself. To put it another way, an artist's intentions and his art can all too easily be confused; the work then suffers because all some people want to do is imitate traditional productions from the past. How dull is that?

Mar. 03 2013 08:26 PM

I had no idea that global warming was on the forefront of Wagner's mind when he composed Parsifal. I'll have to do my research again. When I got home I immediately jumped into the shower to wash off all that menstrual blood that I felt I had just been immersed in. In the past I have enjoyed the upper balcony box seats for Parsifal because there is not much action happening on stage so the partial view doesn't bother me. In this production no view would have been preferable. The meadow scene at the beginning of act three, as stated in the notes on the back of the seat before me depicted a green meadow alive with the beauty of Spring's rebirth. What did we see? A set that resembled the barren surface of the moon. The sets were a distraction. The only insight they contributed were the immensity of Mr. Girard's and Mr.Gelb's egos. A concert version would have been preferable.
There seems to be a competition at the Met to see who's staging can stray further from the composer's intentions not to mention the realm of good taste.The music however, speaks for itself and will endure long after Gelb and Girard are forgotten.

Mar. 03 2013 03:31 PM
Joe O'Leary from Paris

The production began promisingly; The men seated in a closed, brightly lit circle, while women huddled in darkness on the other side of a stream, could suggested a Rotary Club, or Freemasons, or Scientologists, or AA, promising a novel, dechristianized take on the opera as a comment on contemporary quests for spirituality. The various ritual gestures throughout Act I were neither Christian nor Buddhist, again suggesting a modern cult.

At midday the sky is filled by a huge dark planet -- a solar eclipse of some kind? -- worthy of Lars von Trier. Amfortas's agony is the vocal and dramatic highlight of the act, magnificently sung and acted. Blood was much on display and one thought inevitably that he could be crying out for someone to find a cure for AIDS. In the grail ritual he dips his two fingers in the Blood and the businessmen-knights spread the sacred droplets from their fingers to each other's mouths. Only the words of the libretto forced a Christian reading of the scene. The invisible choirs, including "ces voix d'enfants chantant dans la coupole" seemed to miraculous voices borne on the wind, as there was no cupola. The scene was somewhat intrusively dominated by Gurnemanz and Parsifal -- the former scrutinizing the latter to see if he "understands". What is he supposed to understand? Again the scene could be read naturalistically -- he is supposed to grasp and empathize with the depth of Amfortas' pain, or perhaps acquire an insight into the First Noble Truth of Buddhism.

Act II was ghastly! All the characters had to wade in a pond of menstrual blood. The flower maidens sang without sweetness or charm, their dresses dripping. Offstage, during the second interval, they looked quite displeased as theyhastened off to shower. The kiss on a blood-stained bed suggests that Parsifal has lost his spiritual virginity, as he gains insight into Amfortas's suffering. The scenario of rejecting the Temptress is of course corny and it wallows in manichean phobia of sex and women.

Act III. Kundry's role is upgraded, as it is she who comes forward bearing the grail, during Amfortas's rather dull music, and then elevates it (in place of Amfortas). Parsifal then plunges the lance into the cup while Kundry looks up at him in adoring ecstasy; this sexual enactment overshadows the healing of Amfortas's wound. Her subsequent death (prescribed by Wagner) is a sort of Liebestod after all.

One would like to treat Parsifal as a harmless fantasy, letting its yearning music speak for itself. But the work has a disturbing spiritual power that cannot be ironed out so easily. So perhaps any production is bound to be an ironic patchwork, letting sublimity and irony jostle each other. The present production is disappointing because it did not fulfil the ironic promise of its contemporary setting and fell into a Lars von Trier style grandiosity instead.

Mar. 03 2013 12:32 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

SOME HAVE MENTIONED HOW ECUMENICAL ONE CAN VIEW PARSIFAL SINCE SO MANY JEWISH PERFORMERS WERE FAMED PARSIFAL PERFORMERS [INCLUDING CONDUCTORS, OF COURSE] NAMING ONLY A FEW: ALFRED HERTZ, THE CONDUCTOR FOR THE 1903 MET OPERA PREMIERE IN AMERICA, DANIEL BARENBOIM, JAMES LEVINE, GEORG SOLTI, FRIEDRICH SCHORR, ALEXANDER KIPNIS, ERICH LEINDDORF, HERMAN LEVI [THE OPERA'S PREMIERE CONDUCTOR AT BAYREUTH], FRITZ BUSCH, BRUNO WALTER, MARGARETE MATZENAUER, ETC. WAGNER'S PUTATIVE FATHER WAS LUDWIG GEYER, A JEWISH TENOR, PAINTER IN OILS AND COMPOSER. WAGNER'S ANTI-SEMITISM MAY BE ASCRIBED TO THE FACT THAT OUTSIDE OF KING LUDWIG THE SECOND ALMOST ALL OF WAGNER'S FINANCIAL SUPPORTERS WERE JEWISH. LENDERS, UNABLE TO REPAY, OFTEN TURN AGGRESSIVE TO THEIR BENEFACTORS. IT IS KNOWN THAT WAGNER ADORED LUDWIG WHO MARRIED JOHANNA AND UNTIL LUDWIG GEYER DIED THE COMPOSERS NAME WAS WILHELM RICHARD GEYER. JOHANNA RETURNED HER SON'S NAME TO WAGNER FEARING THE JEWISH NAME OF GEYER WOULD JEOPARDIZE HIS FUTURE. I am an opera composer, Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. THE MET'S PARSIFAL performance concluded at 5:55 PM. In all respects sonically the broadcast was epochal considering the lack of voices the size and timbre of MELCHIOR, FLAGSTAD, SCHORR AND KIPNIS. JONAS KAUFMANN WAS AS FINE A PARSIFAL AS THE MET OPERA HAS EVER PRESENTED SINCE MELCHIOR. RENE PAPE HAS GURNEMANZ TO HIMSELF WITH HIS NOBILITY OF VOICE QUALITY, TIMBRE. KATARINA DALAYMAN, THE KUNDRY SINGS THE NOTES WITH A FLOURISH EVEN THE SOARING, HIGH TESSITURA OF THE ACT 2 SCENE WITH PARSIFAL. PETER MATTEI AS AMFORTAS MAKES THE HALLUCINATORY TRISTAN OF TRISTAN'S ACT 3 SEEM PLACID. KUDOS TO MATTEI. EVGENY NIKITIN AS KLINGSOR MENACES AUTHORITARIANLY. MAESTRO DANIELE GATTI CONVINCES US THAT SPIRITUALITY IN OPERA CAN BE AN ECSTATIC, THRILLING EXPERIENCE. THE ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS PERFORM WITH ELAN AND FULL-THROTTLE GUSTO WHERE AND WHEN IT IS APPROPRIATE. THIS WAS A TRULY MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE. I have studied voice and been coached in the Wagner heldentenor roles by legendary artists who made history with their MET OPERA PARSIFAL performnces: ALEXANDER KIPNIS AS GURNEMANZ, MARTIAL SINGHER AND FRIEDRICH SCHORR AS AMFORTAS, MARGARETE MATAZENAUER AS THE AMERICAN PREMIERE KUNDRY AT THE MET, and the buffo baritone GERHARD PECHNER as Klingor. www.WagnerOpoera.com

Mar. 03 2013 08:01 AM
Alice Twombly from Englewood, NJ

I saw the performance of "Parsifal" that was shown live in HD at the Met itself this Sat matinee. The staging of Act 2 was one of the most thrilling moments I have ever seen in the opera/theater, surpassing the staging of " Gotterdammerung" that I saw last year. The apocalyptic setting made me think of the setting for " Waiting for Godot" with the same bleakness of existentialism and an uncertain outcome. The staging of the end of Act 1, however, in the communion scene with the repetition of the word "blood" and the way in which the knights were arranged, was almost too close to a parade of Hitler's army for me to be comfortable with and it made me think of Wagner's politics, which, I believe, especially in the lyrics, are impossible to ignore. Nonetheless, as a man sitting next to me assured me when I commented on the length of the opera, that the opera would be over in a wink of an eye, a dream, I have to concur. The entire production was so riveting, except for the languorous pace of the middle of Act 3, that it flew by amazingly fast. Mention must be made of the role of the choreographer and the dancers who looked like Japanese ghost women with the white gowns and very long hair flowing almost down to the floor, in Act 2, and with their angular and stark movements.
All in all, a memorable introduction, for me, to " Parsifal."

Mar. 03 2013 01:22 AM

JUST SAW LIVE BROADCAST OF MET PARSIFAL; HAVE TO SAY IT WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST PRODUCTIONS I'VE EVER SEEN. TRADITIONALISTS WHO OBJECT TO GIRARD'S RADICAL STAGING OUGHT TO TRY AND REMEMBER THAT WAGNER HIMSELF WAS AN EXTREMELY RADICAL AND ORIGINAL ARTIST. IF HE COULD HAVE EXPERIMENTED WITH STAGING IN HIS DAY (WHICH WAS NOT BEING DONE, FOR THE MOST PART) I'M SURE HE WOULD HAVE CREATED STAGE PIECES AS DEMANDING ON THE AUDIENCE AS THIS PRODUCTION. THE DIRECTOR MAY HAVE CONSIDERED THAT RE-CREATING A COPY OF 19TH CENTURY REALISM IN THEATRE TODAY WOULD BE SILLY, ESPECIALLY SINCE MOST AUDIENCES ALREADY HAVE IN THEIR MINDS IMAGES OF CASTLES AND DREAMY MEDIEVAL SCENES; WHY BOTHER TO REPRODUCE THEM NOW? CONGRATULATIONS, GIRARD AND COMPANY!

Mar. 02 2013 07:57 PM

Mr Lane...why are you typing your comments in all 'capitals'?? In any event, your knowledge and expertise have been noted, over and over. Here in London, I'm waiting to see (this Saturday) the IMAX presentation of the new Met PARSIFAL. I would be the first to say that watching video cannot compare to being there live, although, ironically enough, I think Wagner would have been a consummate filmmaker in the 20th century, along the lines of Sternberg or Lang. I know it's been said before, but Wagner may have been the first true cineaste. His revolutionary darkening of the auditorium of course anticipated same for cinematic presentations.

Feb. 27 2013 11:36 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

I HAVE BEEN STUDYING WAGNER'S OEUVRE AND COMPOSING SINCE AGE 10.
BORN IN JERSEY CITY I NEEDED ONLY TO TAKE THE HUDSON TUBES ,NOW CALLED PATH, TO ATTEND MET OPERA, NY C OPERA AND CARNEGIE AND TOWN HALL PERFORMANCES. INEXPENSIVE STANDING ROOM, ETC. PROVIDED AN INDISPENSABLE ADJUNCT TO MY FORMAL STUDIES OF MUSIC AND THE THEATER. ONE MAY ASSUME THAT IT IS NECESSARY TO SEE MANIFOLD PRODUCTIONS OF OPERAS ONE SEES LIVE TO VALIDATE SEEING THOISE OPERAS AGAIN AND AGAIN. THE PROBLEM IS THAT MANY PRODUCTIONS ARE IN DIRECT CONFLICT WITH NTHE COMPOSER'S INTENTIONS. MANY PRODUCTIONS OF WAGNER'S OWN WORKS IN HIS OWN FESTSPIELHAUS ARE DISGUSTING AND SUBVERSIVE REVEALING THE LACK OF MINIMAL TEXT [STORY] KNOWLLEDGE ONNTHE PART OF THE SET AND COSTUME DESIGNERS. ACT TWO OF THE MET'S PARSIFAL, THE FLOWER MAIDEN SCENE, IS COMPLETELY UGLY, NO TRACE OF WHAT PARSIFAL REFERS TO AS THE BEAUTY OF THE MEADOWS. PROFESSIONALLY I HAVE BEEN ACTICE SINCE AGE 17 AND FIND THIS NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY OF SET AND COSTUME DESIGNERS MORE PREVALENT THAN EVER.

Feb. 27 2013 09:42 AM
marlonbo from nyc

I am surprised at those among you who have seen several productions of Parsifal and still want to see the same thing over and over again. Where is your intellectual curiosity? Your desire to explore the manifold levels of this work? I consider myself a Wagnerian yet I enjoy going to Bayreuth and Europe to see Wagner because the productions there are usually experimental and interesting. I need to experience a variety of interpretations. That's what keeps these works alive for me. The production was definitely an improvement over the other Cirque du Soleil fellow's Ring. Certainly not ideal, but an interesting interpretation. Not as bad as these people are trying to make us believe. And the performances of the male leads were about as ideal as you're ever going to get. Be grateful for a production that makes you rethink and reanalyze a beautiful work of art.

Feb. 25 2013 11:54 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ, USA

JOHN POWERS OF LONDON, UK, LET ME THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENT REGARDING RELAXING, "IT'S NOT REALLY "THE END OF THE WORLD" AND PARSIFAL IS MORE BUDDHIST THAN CHRISTIAN AS WAGNER HIMSELF WROTE AND EXPLAINED TO COSIMA. ALL HISTORY RELATES HOW DARK AGES ARE FOLLOWED BY A RENAISSANCE, A RATIONALITY THAT ENCOMPASSES FAR WIDER VISTAS THAN PREVIOUS CIVILIZATIONS HAVE KNOWN OR REALIZED.. I AM CONFIDENT THAT WAGNER HAD HE FIRST BEEN BORN IN OUR ERA, WOULD HAVE BEEN A MORE CONGENIAL OPEN PERSONALITY AIDED BY MODERN TECHNOLOGY AND STAGE MACHINERY AND LASERS AND LIGHTING MASTER CONTROLS AND SPIDERMAN-LIKE FLYING ABILITIES TO THE VALKYRIES. I HAVE STRONGLY HELD BELIEFS THAT EVERY AGE MAY ADVANCE BEYOND THE PRECEDING ERAS. MONTEVERDI, BELLINI, HAYDN, MOZART, BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, STRAVINSKY AND SCHONBERG, EACH HAD WRITTEN MASTERPIECES THAT WILL ENDURE AND EACH BROUGHT NEW MUSICAL VALUES TO THE FOREGROUND. AT JUILLIARD I STUDIED THE FACSIMILE REPRODUCTIONS OF THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS OFMANY OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS OF THE PAST, IT WAS EXTRAORDINARY TO VIEW THE ALTERATIONS FROM EARLIER DRAFTS TO THE FINISHED PRODUCT. EXPERIMENTATION AND TESTING ONE'S CREATION IS VITAL TO THE QUEST, THE GOAL, THE MATTERHORN WE SEEK TO RISE TO AND ACCOMPLISH ALL THAT IS IN US. MY CONCERN IS THAT OUR EFFORTS ARE NOT MISINTERPRETED KNOWINGLY FOR COMMERCIAL INTERESTS. CHEERS !!! I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My websites where one may download, FREE, my singing in four solo concerts at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall by going to "Recorded Selections"; www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com. Roles that are represented in my singing to be heard on my websites are: Tristan, Siegfried, Goetterdaemmerung Siegfried, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund, Walther von Stolzing, Florestan, Federico and Eleazar.

Feb. 25 2013 06:45 PM
JOHN POWERS from London, UK

Would Kenneth Lane entirely relax?? Forgive the expression, but PARSIFAL is not the Holy Grail, even though that's its major reference. And for all the effort Wagner put into turning his music-drama ideas into a religion, it didn't happen. PARSIFAL will survive many attempts at interpretation and re-working, precisely because the work is transcendent. People shouting for the return of a golden age in opera (or for Wagner) are wasting their time, and do no justice to artists in the un-gilded present.

Feb. 23 2013 11:23 AM

I saw the premiere performance and I agree with many of the comments here...the fabulous cast, chorus, conductor and orchestra deserved far better staging, directing and costuming than they got. I spent most of the second act worrying about the performers getting sick from standing in a pool of red dyed water. Rather than enhancing the production, Francois Girard’s "vision" and execution detracted from the experience. I was continuously distracted from the music and the emotion by pointless "stage business and gimmicks" such as the knights ceremoniously taking off their shoes while dressed not spiritual warriors but like a band of tired accountants in LL Bean white button down shirts. The most disappointing part of the production was its inconsistency with the libretto. It seemed as though Girard and his team hadn't read the libretto at all. By Act III, I was actively annoyed by the incongruous staging -- Why were we looking at projections of the moon and desolate dessert set without a blade of green anything, while Parsifal is singing of a morning in a spring meadow?

I'm not a rigid traditionalist and have enjoyed some of the new productions like the new Rigoletto which I saw two weeks ago is a beautiful recasting of a masterpiece that transplants the story while enhancing its emotions and characters. Similarly, the Willy Denk, La Traviata and the new production of Un Ballo in Maschera were creative modernizations that enhanced the original.

I hope Peter Gelb distinguishes between circus-like staging gimmicks and staging that is enhances and supports the fabulous company of singers and musicians that make up the Met.

Feb. 23 2013 07:45 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

MARGARETE MATZENAUER WAS THE FIRST KUNDRY AT THE MET. SHE WAS BARRED THEREAFTER FROM PERFORMING AGAIN AT BAYREUTH. THE MET OPERA'S PREMIERE PERFORMANCE WAS THE EQUIVALENT FOR CELEBRATION AS VTHE NOW SUCCESSFUL SPIDER MAN BROADWAY MUSICAL. IT WAS THE MOST AMBITIOUS PRODUCTION EVER UP TO THAT TIME IN THE 1920S. BAYREUTH WAS ANGERED THAT ITS VERBOTEN DECREE FOR OTHER COMPANIES TO PRODUCE PARSIFAL WAS THAT IT WAS A BIG MONEY-MAKING ENTERPRISE FOR THE FESTSPIELHAUS. I STUDIED THE ROLE OF PARSIFAL WITH MATZENAUER, KIPNIS AND SCHORR. IT IS MY CONVICTION THAT A HOLOCAUST OF A SITUATION FOR OPERA HOUSE ATTENDANCE WILL EVENTUATE IF COMPOSERS/LIBRETTISTS ARE DISDAINFULLY DISREGARDED BY MISCHIEVOUS, FAME-SEEKING SET AND COSTUME DESIGNERS. DISGRACEFUL ALBEIT LEGAL MISREPRESENTATION OF ART.

Feb. 22 2013 09:55 PM
David from Flushing

Does anyone else have the suspicion that the costume studios of the Met Opera have quietly been dismantled in favor of J. C. Penney?

Feb. 22 2013 07:54 PM
cassandra2013 from Astoria

Very excited to experience my first live production of Parsifal. I loved Otto Schenck's production of the Ring cycle. However, new productions that are true to the tale and re-invigorate it are necessary. Jonas Kaufmann was subline, Rene Papa, Katrina Dalayman, Peter Mattei and Evgeny Nikitin gave strong, splendid peformance.

Questions: Having read several synposes and the libretto, the original version does not have Kundry carry the Grail ( instead the knights do) at the end of act III. I was amazed and gratified that Kundry did carry the Grail in the final act. This is a marvelous re-introduction of the pre-Christian symbolism. Parisfal then dips the spear into the Grail. It was perfect union.

Has this been done before at other Parsifals?

Feb. 22 2013 12:20 PM
John Y. from West End Ave. NYC

I saw the new "Parsifal" last night, and would go again tonight if it were possible, the music and the singers were so sublime. Having said that, let me add that I LOATHED the new production. I hated the barrenness of the Montsalvat set in the fist act, wondered why we were watching "When Worlds Collide" and "2001 - a Space Oddysey" and laughed at the chorus members flinging their arms in all directions, for no ostensible reason other than that the director had no idea what else he could do to make them visually interesting.

The second act set made the first look good by comparison. Instead of a lovely flower garden, with beautiful flower maidens trying to seduce Parsifal, we have Vampira look-alikes, seemingly on wooden stakes (or were they carrying spears? I couldn't tell, and it doesn't make any difference anyway - either way it's inappropriate.) and the creepy blood lake they were standing in! What a travesty! I couldn't help wondering how long it took those poor chorus members to wash that red dye off their feet.

Third act: they are singing that it's Spring, and Good Friday, and the set looks like a barren Moonscape, and AGAIN with the "When Worlds Collide" projection.

I am so grateful to have seen the exquisite Otto Schenk production in years past, leith those wonderful sets by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen. They served the production, not imposed a "concept" on it. Oh well, that production will live on in my memory.

Feb. 22 2013 11:10 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

CONGRATULATIONS TO THOSE WHO HAVE SPOKEN OUT AGAINST THIS BARBARIC, RIDICULOUS SCANDALOUS ROBBERY OF THE ISSUES OF RAVISHED CULTURE WHEREIN THGE CREATOR OF THE WORK IS WANTONLY VANDALIZED BY INGRATES SEEKING THE SENSATIONAL CONTROVERSY TO FURTHER THEIR OWN FAME ISSUES. THE EVER-PRESENT CURRENT STUPIDITY OF BECOMING FAMOUS FOR BEING FAMOUS. WAKE UP AMERICA !!! IF THIS CONTINUES WE WILL HAVE A CATASTROPHIC LOSS OF THE TRUE LOVERS OF GREAT MUSIC AND GREAT SINGING AT THE OPERA HOUSES. INSTEAD PEOPLE WILL RESORT TO BROADCAST OPERA OR RECORDINGS AND THE SUPERSTRUCTURE OF LIVE AUDIENCES FOR OPERA WILL DISAPPEAR FAST. WHEN THAT HAPPENS, NO AMOUNT OF SCURRILOUS FANTASIZING WILL RESTORE THE DREAM TAHT MODERN TECHNOLOGY COULD HAVE EMBELLISHED. I AM AN OPERA COMPOSER AND A WAGNERIAN HELDENTENOR. I COACH ALL THE SHAKESPEARE AND WAGNER ROLES AT THE RICHARD WAGNER MUSIC DRAMA INSTITUTE AND I DEARLY HOPE THAT PETER GELB, WHO HAS HAD MEMORABLE POSITIVE ACHIEVEMENTS BEFORE BECOMING THE MET'S GENERAL MANAGER RECONSIDER HIS FUTURE APPOINTMENTS.

Feb. 22 2013 08:40 AM
George from NYC

When a director's view overwhelms a production to the point that the concept becomes so controversial that that is anything people are talking about, it is time to stop and think. The composer and librettist have done everything for the production team. If a work is set in the 12th century that is where the composer wants it to be set whenever it is produced. Not every operea should be considered an allegory, ripe for transposing to the time and place of the director's fancy. If one looks at the older productions in operatic history, were people complaining about the lack of updating-of course not. A agree with one of the above comments: I would much prefer a concert version where the concept can exist in the listener's mind and one can concentrate on the ONLY important things--The MUSIC and the SINGING!

Feb. 21 2013 04:08 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Should one wish to hear KIPNIS as GURNEMANZ and SINGHER as AMFORTAS, there is a LIVE PERFORMANCE CD set restored by conservationists techniques today by WARD MARSTON and JON SAMUELS of the Tuesday September 22nd, 1936 TEATRO COLON, Argentina on the MARSTON label. The producer of the set was KIPNIS's son IGOR KIPNIS. The original discs were recently discovered. They along with performances of DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER, LOHENGRIN and DER ROSENKAVALIER wrre recorded during the 1936-7 season, the earliest of any recordings made at the TEATRO CILON. As I have mentioned earlier, I studied voice and rep with both ALEXANDER KIPNIS and MARTIAL SINGHER.. But I also appeared in the SONG NOF NORWAY with IRRA PETINA who at the TEATRO COLON PARSIFAL sang as a KNABEN and as a FLOWER MAIDEN, pretty as well !

Feb. 21 2013 02:36 PM
Brunnhilde from NYC

Well, I guess this will be another opera production I will not see. The music to Parsifal is magnificent. Prior productions have been awe-inspiring. This suit and tie stuff just doesn't make it for me. Just saw NYCO's "Powder her Face" by a Met composer favorite - Ades - and was so underwhelmed! I almost cried when I found out Parsifal will be falling into that category of "forget it" don't bother to see it. Alas, opera management couldn't care less about the opera audiences. Aren't they lucky they don't have to pay for their pet projects.

Feb. 21 2013 02:09 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Since my boyhood when three times weekly I attended performances at the old MET OPERA HOUSE going standing room at the FAMILY CIRCLE, the top balcony, for 75 cents, I have witnessed what most consider the GOLDEN AGE OF WAGNER PERFORMANCES. Much later I got to study voice with some of those legendary singers namely FRIEDRICH SCHORR, ALEXANDER KIPNIS, MARGARETE MATZENAUER, KARIN BRANZELL and MARTIAL SINGHER and, besides, I am an alumnus of JUILLIARD But back ti those halcyon days as a tyro, I was permitted backstage where I would discuss techniques with the singers, conductors and staging directors. I relished the extraordinary interaction between them and myself, they appearing to be enthusiastic about discussing their attributes and the steep rise to acceptance as a world class performer or director. In the course of this "transformational journey" of mine, I have seen dozens of PARSIFAL productions and hope to see many more, but with this caveat that they be evocative imagination-wise of the composer's and librettist's intentions. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My websites where one may download, FREE, my singing in four solo concerts at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall by going to "Recorded Selections"; www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com. Roles that are represented in my singing to be heard on my websites are: Tristan, Siegfried, Goetterdaemmerung Siegfried, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund, Walther von Stolzing, Florestan, Federico and Eleazar

Feb. 21 2013 02:00 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

I find ardath's comments highly repugnant; just like Act II of Parsifal with blood, blood and more blood. We got it already. One can only feel sorry for the singers having to sing with their feet in water, and the orchestra playing so magnificantly to a vision that was not so magnificant. If you view it as a concert performance, perhaps. Best leave the Cirque de Soleil folks back at the Circus.

Feb. 20 2013 02:36 PM
Jonathan Brown from Lawrence

To call people who like traditional productions that take the librettos of the opera literally "neo-nazi" is extremely insulting and has no place on the wqxr website. How can you expect anyone who is discovering opera for the first time to know what an opera is about if the director puts his or her own conception of the opera on the stage.

Feb. 20 2013 02:13 PM
ardath_bey

The new Parsifal is intelligent, creative and bold. It has received great reviews by great publications. I hope it stays in the MET roster for at least 25 years. It's grounded on solid artistic principles. Of course we'll always have to deal with neo-Nazi hate mongers who can't deal with innovation and creativity. They fear everything intelligent that breathes, anything that isn't a dust-filled museum piece in the style of the old Zeffirelli productions. They are exactly where they belong right now, in a dungeon of a warehouse in Jersey. And I hope Mr. Gelb retires all those moldy malformations.

These are not people of the theater. They only look back, never look forward.

Feb. 20 2013 01:37 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

The only people who benefit from productions like these are the designers and directors who are getting paid for it. These concept productions are all absurd. I long for the day when the stage director will again be a conductor's functionary. "This production isn't for everybody", indeed. I would recommend listening via radio or internet, but not patronizing any production that is a concept production. Talk about "dumbing down"... The Met can save a lot of wasted money on concept productions by giving concert performances with the outstanding superlative soloists chorus and orchestra. As I say, listening to it is wonderful. To mention other monstrosities inflicted upon other composers: Rigoletto in Las Vegas or with Mafia connections? It's 19th Century music, great and everlasting, to be sure. Gianni Schicchi in the 1920's instead of 1299? How many banishments and hands cut off for falsifying wills have been carried out in 1920's Italy? For shame!

Feb. 20 2013 06:49 AM
msirt

Will be seeing this Thursday.

The age-old question: how can such a bigoted, terrible person such as anti-semitic Wagner write such divine music?

Well, in this essentially Buddhist opera, full of reincarnation ideas, as well as being thematically the violent struggle between temptation and compassion, we may have an answer: Wagner will be reincarnated as a Jew.

Feb. 19 2013 08:17 PM
Marvin J. Taylor from New York City

What a vapid review. Are you afraid to have an opinion? This was a brilliant interpretation of Wagner's last--and most complicated--work. The production is the first i know of to make sense of the relationship between The Ring and Parsifal. So what if your audience doesn't like what you have to say? Wagner was the greatest experimenter with opera in form and production. This production makes this work relevant again. Have the guts to say so. Let the bean counters, who seem to drive WQXR, know that intelligence, not mediocrity, is what we need these days.

Feb. 19 2013 08:07 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

IN RENE PAPE AND JONAS KAUFMANN WE HAVE TWO SPLENDID SINGER/ACTORS WHO INHABIT THEIR ROLES AND PRODUCE EXCITING VOCALISM. WAGNER LIKE SHAKESPEARE INSPIRES SURREALISTIC CONCEPTS AND NOTIONS ORDINARILY CONSIDERED TOO FAR OUT WHEN TREATING THE CREATIONS OF LESS IMMORTAL GENIUSES, SOMEHOW ACCEPTS THE SENSATIONALISM OF THE UNIQUE, EVEN IF IT COLLIDES WITH THE ORIGINAL LOCALE AND STORY LINE. GENERAL MANAGER PETER GELB, WE ALL HAVE GREAT RESPECT FOR WHAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED BY YOUR HD IN REAL TIME PRESENTATIONS OF THE MET OPERA LIVE PERFORMANCES WORLD-WIDE IN HUNDREDS OF MOVIE THEATERS AND OTHER PERFORMING ARTS CENTERS, BUT PLEASE REFRAIN FROM PUTTING UNDER CONTRACT THOSE SELF-SERVING NARCISSTIC SET AND COSTUME DESIGNERS WHO WOULD DO ANYTHING TO SENSATIONALIZE THEIR OWN "ACHIEVEMENTS" BY CROSS-OVER PRODUCTIONS THAT CONTRADICT THE LIBRETTISTS' AND OPERA COMPOSERS' INTENTIONS. YOU ARE TOO GOOD A MAN, A MENSCH, WITH ALL YOUR PREVIOUS ACCOMPLISHMENTS, TO CONTINUE TO BARBARIANIZE THE MASTERPIECES OF OPERA THE AUTHORS/COMPOSERS HAVE CHOSEN TO COMMUNICATE. NOT TO APPEAR TO BE A PRUDE PURIST, BUT FLASHY, SENSATIONALISM THOUGH IT MAY EXCITE ENTHUSIASM FOR THE UNIQUE, THE SPACED OUT, MAY ALSO SO CLASH WITH THE ORIGINAL INTENTIONS OF THE AUTHORS/COMPOSERS THAT THE AUDIENCES WILL NEVER REALLY BE ABLE TO COMPREHEND WHAT WERE THE CREATIVE TEAMS' INTENTIONS AND UPDATING THE STORY LINE AND CHANGING THE LOCALE CAN ONLY CONTRADICT WHAT THE MORES, CUSTOMS, OF THE ORIGINAL TIMES WOULD HAVE COMMANDEERED. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My websites where one may download, FREE, my singing in four solo concerts at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall by going to "Recorded Selections"; www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com. Roles that are represented in my singing to be heard on my websites are: Tristan, Siegfried, Goetterdaemmerung Siegfried, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund, Walther von Stolzing, Florestan, Federico and Eleazar.

Feb. 19 2013 06:52 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

There are intriguing aspects to Girard's production, though in the end I am uncertain as to whether it serves Parsifal well. The only visual hint of renewal in the Karfreitag scene is the image of a rainbow on the rear scrim. Don't apply logic to your thinking about this rainbow, i.e. How did a rainbow appear over this parched and barren landscape? When Parsifal sings "Wie dünkt mich doch die Aue heut so schön!" in this production, he, and the audience are looking not just at parched barren earth, but at parched barren earth with a mess of overturned conference room chairs piled up on it. It's ugly and and makes no sense, vis-a-vis the words Parsifal is singing "How beautiful the meadow looks today!" In that same scene, Parsifal attempts to comfort a distraught Kundry by saying that she is crying, but the meadow is bursting with life and joy. What sense does it make for a character to be consoling another, by pointing out that the meadow is blooming, when the characters are on a dead meadow with an ugly tangle of overturned conference room chairs? That the set design works against the singers' voices projecting well out into the auditorium also is a serious issue, I should think. On the other hand, that same scene has a grave dug . . for Amfortas. He sings his final monologue supporting himself up in the grave, and then in wild desperation, hoping to be killed to escape his torments, he flings himself up out of the grave and his button-down shirt flies open, presenting his chest to be stabbed through. As performed by Peter Mattei, that was a dramatically impactful moment. Mattei sang with a robust, infallibly musical, voluminous yet also, infinitely nuanced bass-baritone, wedded to perfect German diction and a heightened sensitivity to the inner meanings of the text. His portrayal is forever seared into my memory.

Feb. 19 2013 01:58 PM
Robert Poda from New York

I saw the second performance last night. While, I thought the singing was wonderful, the production, to put it mildly, is ugly to look at. As with most Met new productions lately, I don't have to see this one again. Don't any of these directors ever look at what these production were envisioned in the librettos of the operas. Peter Gelb should be fired for hiring these misguided directors.

Feb. 19 2013 01:02 PM

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