Parsifal

Wagner’s opera Parsifal (the pure fool) is a marathon of a show, and you need stamina to enter a cinema at 4.30pm, with two half hour intervals, and leave at 10.30pm. It doesn’t get grander or more grandiose than this, and The Royal Opera Covent Garden beamed it across continents as part of their Stage to Screen presentations. As you might expect, this was a modernised version with the Knights of the Grail in grey business suits, and carrying guns, and later in rumpled trousers and grimy vests. The music was majestic, spiritual, and ranging from the magnificent to the sublime. Simon Callow explained the story and history, but the Stephen Langridge staging was often pretentious, annoying and had a feeling that the forest was only a collection of telegraph poles, with a futuristic cube in the centre, that was a hospital bed for a crippled bleeding, Amfortas, or it was the scene of Klingsor’s self-castration, with his trousers down at his ankles. Or it was opaque like an iPad screen for images to be projected on like flashbacks. The Holy Grail wasn’t either a place or a chalice, but was a semi-naked youth (a lamb to the slaughter). Antonio Pappano’s musical direction was sublime; it held me spellbound with tolling bells, pounding, urgent timpani, and great sweeps of violins, savage brass, and soft lyrical dreamlike sequences to caress the spirit. The first act was almost leaden and grey, but when the dark-garbed flower maidens became sparkling nightclub hostesses, and Kundry the mysterious, at times bald and emaciated, then a flame-haired temptress, oozing sexuality the opera seemed to catch fire. Later, she was a dumb-show fright-queen from a silent movie. Angela Denoke was amazing as Kundry. I wasn’t overly impressed by Simon O’Neill’s, Parsifal, but Rene Pape was excellent as the brooding Gurnemanz. Willard White was Klingsor in a familiar long, leather coat. He got to blind Parsifal, which was not, I think, something that Wagner intended. But that is often how directors add to their reputation by moving the time frame or historic period to add symbolism or make an audience take a second look. Then again, a little controversy works in opera as well as general show business.

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