Reviewed by George Fleeton © 2013
The Met: Live in HD has announced its ten operas for global screening in the 2013-14 season, and has scheduled them between 5 October (Eugene Onegin) and 10 May (La Cenerentola).
These satellite-delivered performances are always on Saturdays, around 6 pm Irish time, and will be shown, in high definition, at twenty-three venues across Ireland, including six in N.I. (Antrim, Belfast, Derry, Dundonald, Lisburn and Newry).
This music drama, a quasi-religious ritual of absolution that comes about through the compassion of a pure fool, a parsifal, dates from 1882, and was Wagner’s only completed opera after the marathon of theRing cycle.
By the following February he had died, of a heart attack, in Venice.
In recent years I have seen only half of Wagner’s operas, so I prepared for the Metropolitan Opera production of Parsifal by spending some time listening to this music, in which ‘time becomes space’ and the sufferings of a foolish man bring wisdom and the honour of guarding the Holy Grail.
To hand were the Naxos Historical CDs of the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Karl Muck (who had attended the first performances of Parsifal at the age of 23).
This set contains highlights from the first ever recordings of this opera (1913), and excerpts recorded later at Bayreuth (1927/8).
These proved to be invaluable and fascinating homework.
The Met Opera performance (seen in the Omniplex Dundonald Belfast on March 02) benefited greatly from the casting of five top- end European singers with acres of Wagner singing experience between them: Kaufmann and Pape from Germany, Dalayman and Mattei from Sweden and Nikitin from Russia, while Gatti, the Italian conductor, is of course one of the best in the business.
This co-production came to New York via Toronto and Lyon, and so was well oiled and greased, blasted and bloodied, in the ugliest sets I have ever seen on an opera stage.
In the course of Parsifal’s odyssey – the foolish man made wise through compassion – the director, François Girard, used the bodies of the excellent Met Opera chorus to sculpt the landscapes of the Grail Hall (acts 1 and 3) and Klingsor’s demesne (act 2), but left far too much to our imagination, which defeated the purpose of the concept as there was no where for the eye to wander, land and then move on.
Mighty but abstract back-projected images of weather and sky and space (and the mountains of the moon?) were distracting rather than informative.
This was, visually, a bleak, uncompromising, slow motion, self-indulgent affair, in which the modern dress setting was completely at odds with the complex design factors of the production, but the music, the voices and the orchestra were supreme.
Wagner, for the final time in his prodigious output, once more devoted oceans of stage time to the back story (the Grail and the Spear) – he had spent 37 years, off and on, mulling it all over, and still produced a terrible libretto.
So how could it avoid being pretentious? – although for some it is a sublime experience.
And yes, the Kundry/Parsifal seduction duet at the core of act 2 is stunning, as is the music, later on, for the rituals of washing feet and anointing heads and Good Friday.
And then there’s Wagner’s final music, the last chorus and the closing symphony, which tails away to a whisper…..
This strange man was born two hundred years ago (on May 22) and the world’s opera houses this year are full of his works.
He is however being commemorated all over the place along side both his exact contemporary, Verdi, and Britten (who was a hundred years younger).
Meanwhile there are two operas to come, at the end of this current Met: Live in HD season, Francesca da Rimini (March 16) and Giulio Cesare (April 27).
See www.classicalartsireland.com for full details.