BWW Reviews: Redemption for the Metropolitan Opera's New PARSIFAL Is in the Music
There used to be an ad campaign from a New York bakery company, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's rye bread." Well, a similar statement could be made about Richard Wagner's final opera (or as he called it, a büenenweihfestspiel , or "a festival play for the consecration of the stage"): You don't have to be Christian to love PARSIFAL, with its themes of redemption, honor and loyalty.
It is a unique experience, regardless of one's faith, because the glorious music's the thing. And I'd follow the cast, orchestra and chorus of the Metropolitan Opera's new production anywhere. Heard at the opera's second performance of the season, February 18, they were superb.
Jonas Kaufmann is the tenor of his generation, who has left Met audiences in his thrall, whether in Italian (TRAVIATA), French (FAUST) or German opera (WALKÜRE); his masculine, baritonal sound is simply mesmerizing. Count his performance in this opera as another of his fine achievements. Dramatically, this Parsifal is a first cousin of Kaufmann's Lohengrin at the La Scala season-opener, growing from naïve youth to hero with effortless singing. [Note: Mythologically speaking, Parsifal is Lohengrin's father.]
As the noble Gurnemanz, bass Rene Pape spun his wisdom with breathtaking warmth and honesty. Baritone Peter Mattei as Amfortas, the stricken leader of the Knights of the Holy Grail, brings a combination of fortitude and frustration to the role. The exciting bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin was a wild man as Klingsor, who had wounded Amfortas with the knight's own holy spear and is hell-bent on destroying Parsifal whom he recognizes as savior of the knights.
Soprano Katarina Dalayman would have stood out even if she wasn't the sole female among the principals, unafraid of making some less-than-pretty sounds to create her characterization of the mysterious, shape-shifting Kundry.
Conductor Daniele Gatti and director Francois Girard marshaled the Met's amazing resources--vocal, orchestral and dance--with a sense of urgency and detail to line that kept the 5 ½ + hour spectacle moving with grace and polish. Carolyn Choa's sensual choreography works well, particularly in Act II at Klingsor's magic castle, portraying the temptation of Parsifal by the villain's flower maidens.
There's been some speculation that the Met's newer productions have been designed, and sung, with their HD broadcasts too much in mind. In the case of PARSIFAL, I'd bet that the production looks better on screen, where the principals--and other artists--can be isolated in close-up. Their presence is the gift of this production. One could call the sets by Michael Levine modern (or "post-modern") with its arid moonscape locations and undecipherable projections by Peter Flaherty; together with the costumes of Thibault Vancraenenbroek, the best to be said is that there wasn't much to distract from the singing. With this cast, it was definitely a good thing.
The Met's HD broadcast of PARSIFAL is on March 2 at 12 noon. Other performances are on February 21 and 27, March 5 and 8.