Bloomberg Businessweek, February 17, 2013
|By Manuela Hoelterhoff
Wagner: Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera, 15. Februar 2013
‘Parsifal’ Glows in New Met Show With Star Tenor: Review
In performances of Wagner’s 5-hours- plus “Parsifal,” the suffering on stage
is so often shared by the audience.
Amfortas, wounded by a lustful
misadventure, groans as he presides over the community of knights harboring
the Holy Grail. Eventually, Parsifal will heal him with a sacred spear.
Along the way -- across three acts in which he acquires compassion and
understanding -- Parsifal ogles flower maidens, vanquishes an evil eunuch
and blesses a bizarre woman named Kundry, who once laughed at the crucified
Christ. She definitely needs redemption.
At the Wagner Festival in
Bayreuth, where the summers are hot and under-air-conditioned, I once sat
next to an insufficiently hardy music pilgrim who collapsed and spent the
second act at the Red Cross station. I felt his pain.
Metropolitan Opera on Friday night, however, I fell under a spell. Time
moved on and yet stood still. The ethereal music suffused us all. Sitting in
our seats, we traveled far.
In the mysterious words of Gurnemanz, a
somber knight: Time becomes space.
Wagner finished Parsifal in 1882, grandly calling it “ein
Buhnenweihfestspiel” (“stage consecrating festival play”) to encourage a
devotional attitude and discourage booing.
As always, he wrote his
own libretto, which is why the opera isn’t shorter.
liked his stories so much that he repeated many several times until you are
ready to pull your ears off and cry, “But I know Parsifal’s mutti is dead!
She was dead in the first act hours ago!”
And yet when the components
are superbly connected, there is nothing more hypnotizing in the operatic
repertoire. And so it was at the Met.
The Met fielded a starry cast
headlined by tenor Jonas Kaufmann, conductor Daniele Gatti and a director of
magical powers, Francois Girard.
In close communion with the
splendidly inventive Michael Levine (sets), Thibault Vancraenenbroeck
(costumes), David Finn (lights), Peter Flaherty (video) and Carolyn Choa
(choreography), the French-Canadian director created a new pictorial world.
Remote from reality -- and Wagner’s stage descriptions -- it was stirringly
believable, starting with the prelude.
We witnessed -- dimly -- the ritual disrobing of the Grail’s knights.
Slowly they removed jackets, ties, shoes, and formed a circle at stage left,
sitting on simple chairs.
Opposite, shrouded women clustered,
separated from the men by an unsettling gash in the ground that morphed into
a stream of blood, a chasm, a festering wound and finally a brook of
The second-act set was queasily spectacular and had
provoked a lot of chat. Instead of the traditional garden, Klingsor lives in
a blood-soaked realm dominated by two towering cliffs and separated by a
seeping chasm. The blood puddled on the stage, soiling the white shifts worn
by the ninja-like maidens guarding the sorcerer.
With not much help
from Drs. Freud and Jung, you could also see the bloody slit as the place
where Amfortas once plunged his own spear. But that does get to the heart of
the story. Wagner just beat around the bush in his garlanded libretto. While
he liked women in his own bed, his operas invariably feature them as
sacrificing souls or contaminating witches.
astonishing as Parsifal, singing effortlessly and with the radiant tone so
rare in Wagner tenors. He moves convincingly from a forest-dwelling idiot
who murders swans to a suffering wanderer with graying hair. He’s become an
I don’t think better singers exist anywhere in the world, especially Peter
Mattei as Amfortas. Unusually tall and thin for a part typically inhabited
by well-fed baritones, he seemed to waste away before our eyes.
Gurnemanz, so often a droning dullard, was given rare presence by Rene Pape;
Evgeny Nikitin exuded angry madness as Klingsor. Katarina Dalayman was
always interesting as the harried Kundry, who shuttles between the two
realms (and through the centuries).
Then there was Gatti, whose deep understanding emanated palpably from
the pit. Even the first act’s slow tempos were compellingly arched.
Breathing with the singers, always in eye contact, he evoked memories of
James Levine in his prime as he led the huge orchestra through this
Even the chorus was inspired to sing and move
with astonishing certitude. Bravo to chorus master Donald Palumbo -- and
everyone else involved in this unforgettable evening. The response from a
full house (I saw no one leave in a show that started at 6 p.m. and finished
shortly before midnight) was thunderously positive with a few boos from more
tradition- seeking Wagnerians.
Judging by program bios, Girard spends
too much time in Lyon and Gatti in Zurich. Move closer, gents. We need you
here in New York.
The live telecast is on March 2. Kaufmann’s
splendid new Wagner album is available on Decca.
Funding came from
the Gramma Fisher Foundation, Rolex, Marina Kellen French and the Edgar
Foster Daniels Foundation.