There have been many reviews published already, some in exquisite detail, so I assume that if you want to know about the new Metropolitan Opera Parsifal, the François Girard co-production with Opera Lyon (2012) & the Canadian Opera Company (TBA), you’ll simply read one of those other reviews.
I had to giggle watching the broadcast in high definition today, where one might wonder if all Quebecois directors seek to bankrupt the Met. Of course Girard “only” pushed them to the biggest onstage waterworks in recent memory, partly filled with fake blood, not the colossal expenses of their last venture into La Belle Province, aka Robert Lepage’s Ring Cycle. Perhaps Girard did not want to be outdone by the man who also flooded orchestra pits at BAM and Toronto? Pardon my national pride, taking in all the Canadians directing in the USA these days, what with Lepage, Girard, Des McAnuff, and Robert Carsen, to name the first four who pop into my head. And come to think of it, no matter what Girard’s waterworks might have cost, the reviews are the closest thing I have ever seen to a unanimous rave review for a production that might be called “Regietheater”.
The title calls attention to a line in Wagner’s opera that is to some people among the most controversial. “Redemption for the redeemer” is a translation of “Erlösung dem Erlöser”. What struck me about this production is that in some respects it seems that the world has caught up to Richard Wagner.
When Parsifal is presented in a conservative staging –complete with all the trappings of religion & the Grail ritual—the effect does not really capture all the radical ideas in Wagner’s text. Some people mistake this opera for something religious and respectful, whereas I think it’s much more radical than that, a passion play for a new religion. The phrase I quote is the completion of an idea that comes up in Act II: when Parsifal suggests that Jesus is still on the cross, and requiring a kind of redemption. Yet if you were the most conservative Christian, and then were to turn on the television, and hear of the various atrocities done by members of the church in various guises, such as priests abusing children, schools pushing aboriginal children away from their own culture, one simply wishes that Christians would practice what they preach, and live up to the Bible. And a corrupt church needs saving, doesn’t it?
The design concept of Girard’s Parsifal (designed by Michael Levine) draws on the deep subtext of Wagner’s opera, a work populated mostly by men, while women are pushed aside. Girard and Levine address this imbalance, such that the second act is set deep in a vaginal cleft flooded with the aforementioned blood and the apocalyptic conclusion of the work finally reconciles the genders. For me this is a simple and elegant Parsifal. After mores complex approaches such as Syberberg’s densely imaged film (which I love) this one is a breath of fresh air.
It’s impossible to know for sure, but I thought that maybe Girard / Levine were influenced by a production of Pelléas et Mélisande I saw in Montreal about ten years ago, where there was a small creek running through the middle of the stage, and where the servants –who silently come to the fore in the last ten minutes of the work—are quietly visible from the beginning of the opera. Similarly, Girard/Levine have water (or blood) running onstage for much of the work, and an unexpected female population who are usually invisible.
I’d heard complaints about the conducting. But I was blown away by conductor Danielle Gatti, who seemed to put all the singers at ease, whose sense of flow & proportion were effortless. In places the pacing was wonderfully urgent & tense, and I never felt the work drag.
My favourite vocal performances? Ha, it’s hard to choose with such a talented group. Jonas Kaufmann has been acknowledged, both for his subtle characterization that changes over the three acts, including a heart-breaking appearance in Act III for which I was totally unprepared even though I had read about it. Rene Pape’s Gurnemanz was wonderful singing from beginning to end, subtly acted in a role that can be thankless. I’d heard that Peter Mattei’s Amfortas was well-sung & acted, but still did not expect the subtleties he brought to the role. Evgeny Nikitin was the big surprise to me, sounding like a young Gustav Neidlinger, playing up the lurid aspects of his role (and costume).
As far as I can tell, the encore presentation is April 20th in Canada.