This performance of Wagner’s Parsifal was the three-hundredth in the Met’s history. François Girard’s 2013 production is a masterstroke. His humanization of this medieval story of religious awakening and redemption is given new life and contemporary meaning as a tale involving the breakdown of relationships between the sexes, as well as a desperate search for understanding of the significance of suffering and the spiritual means to provide relief.
Michael Levine’s set features evolving cloud formations that traverse as well as beleaguer the evening sky, sometimes appearing dark and foreboding, while at other times illuminating the heavens with redemptive rays, all embellished with video projections, cleverly designed by Peter Flaherty. Thibault Vancraenenbroeck’s costumes emphasize basic black and white worn by the brotherhood of Knights of the Holy Grail, and long white shifts donned by Klingsor’s female guards who are miraculously transformed into Flowermaidens, although bereft of any floral display. The blood that virtually floods the stage during the Act Two seduction scene (curiously poured over the end of the bed in which Kundry tries to seduce the innocent Parsifal) is blatant overkill, however. But blood does play a significant role in this drama, as it focuses on the seemingly incurable wound inflicted on Amfortas by the evil Klingsor and the internal torments suffered by Kundry, enigmatic messenger of the Knights, who succumbs to Klingsor’s magic, and there is much symbolism of earthly suffering which Parsifal’s transformation from pure fool to wise king seeks to redeem.
The casting is almost flawless. René Pape, whose rich, deep and secure voice and brilliant acting skills make him a strong, sturdy Gurnemanz, may well be second to none in this role. Having the most to sing, he made it through with sheer force of will and stamina. Rarely have Gurnemanz’s long narrations been given such dramatic force and expressive profundity. Just as impressive was Peter Mattei as Amfortas. His impassioned portrayal struck a nerve, especially in the expression of pathetic suffering. Evelyn Herlitzius gave an estimable account of Kundry, whose hysterics are often exaggerated, but Herlitzius played them down, making for a more human characterization and she manifested a tender, motherly nature that was far beyond feigning. Her mad scenes were equally convincing. Evgeny Nikitin’s fierce, arrogant and mean-spirited take on Klingsor suited the role perfectly.
Klaus Florian Vogt handled the title-role admirably, yet was rather constrained vocally, which may have resulted from a perception that Parsifal is bloodless and bewildering. He reacted to Kundry’s telling him of the death of his mother with bemusement rather than sorrow but came alive with intense disdain after succumbing to Kundry’s kiss. Although Parsifal does not require a Heldentenor, the role succeeds well with a stronger, more resilient voice than Vogt displayed, making the character appear to be in a semi-trance, except when exuding dramatic power and intensity in finally rejecting Kundry’s advances, and when he underwent a dramaturgical awakening during the closing scene.
The Flowermaidens — hardly an apt title, given the stark costuming – sang splendidly, with siren-like quality, and the Met Chorus also deserves high praise for its contribution.
The real star was Yannick Nézet-Séguin (the Met’s music director designate). His combination of perfect pacing – giving the long-lined passages just the right breathing space – and dramatic punch made this performance especially impressive, the playing perfectly balanced, and the whole nothing less than superb and captivating.
- The performance on Saturday February 17 was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)