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The Metropolitan Opera
Act III Parsifal tableau, with Dalayman, Kaufmann, Pape and Mattei
© Johan Elbers 2013
Pape and Kaufmann in Act I of Parsifal
© Beth Bergman 2013
Kaufmann in the Met's new Parsifal
© Beth Bergman 2013
The Met gave the first performance of Parsifal outside of Bayreuth in 1903. In the 110-year history of the work in the house, all of the productions have been strictly representational of Wagner's stage directions. (Indeed, the 1991 Otto Schenk production was even more flat-footedly literal than its 1970 predecessor, directed by Nathaniel Merrill.) That changed on February 15, when a new production by François Girard, first seen in Lyon in 2012, arrived at the house. Girard's production, like Wagner's libretto, incorporates imagery from a variety of religious traditions. The Knights of the Grail, who are onstage for all of Act I, are dressed, Mormon-missionary style, in white shirts and black trousers. They sit in a circle on uncomfortable community-center chairs. They pray separately from a group of women, who are divided from the men by a gully bisecting the stage in Michael Levine's arid, earthen set for Acts I and III. The gully runs with blood, wound-like, for much of Act I, but during the Good Friday spell of Act III it is almost "healed," and it runs with clear water. The congregants sometimes perform Tai-chi-like gestures in synchronization. In line with Wagner's idea that the temple of the Grail exists outside of time and place, there is no scene change in either act, only a change from clouds to planets in Peter Flaherty's video design and a change to "indoor" lighting.
These acts accord well with Wagner's concerns about empathy and purity. Directorial trouble arrives only in Act II, where Klingsor's domain is revealed deep within the wound/gully. There is no engagement with the music in this act, and an over-reliance on video design takes the place of character development. The great Kundry–Parsifal confrontation, in which the advantage changes a half-dozen times, passes without incident. During his first solo, "Wehe! Was tat ich?" she ambles about upstage. When she sings "Nun such' ich ihn," he returns the favor. Perhaps the superficial treatment of Act II was meant to highlight the intensity of hard-won redemption in Act III, in which Parsifal returns nearly dead from his quest, Amfortas laboriously crawls into his own grave and Kundry is allowed to open the Grail shrine but apparently dies from the exposure. Perhaps not.
Daniele Gatti produced a distinctive interpretation of the score from the great Met Orchestra. It was a clear-textured yet luscious sound. When the music depicted suffering — in Amfortas's monologue, in Parsifal's "Amfortas! Die Wunde!" — the orchestral tone became, if anything, more beautiful. The effect was extraordinary. The transitions in the duet of Act II, for example from "Amfortas! Die Wunde!" into Kundry's "Gelobter Held!," provided everything that was missing from the stage direction. Gatti's work was obviously done in rehearsal; he elicited the enormous climax of Act I, during the transformation music, with barely a stroke of his baton. But the truly striking aspect of his performance was his partnership with René Pape's sovereign Gurnemanz. Pape had sung the role at the Met before, but with far less sympathetic conducting. Here, it seemed as if he and Gatti could do anything together. Pape's performance had perhaps the widest dynamic range of any sung in the house in memory. There was beautiful legato in the scene with the dead swan, great tenderness in the Good Friday meadow and unlimited power for "O wunden-wundervoller heilige Speer!" The Met has had several fine Gurnemanzes in the last generation, but Pape's achievement was historic.
Jonas Kaufmann sang with his usual flood of beautiful tone in Act II, riding the crests of Gatti's waves, and he showed some real acting skills in "Ja! Diese Stimme!," when Parsifal suddenly feels empathy. Peter Mattei's Amfortas was admirably steady in wide-ranging intervals, even as Gatti drew his music out to dangerous lengths. Likewise, Evgeny Nikitin sang Klingsor with a fine voice and unusual accuracy of pitch in this role. Unfortunately, he was inclined to speak too many of his words. Only Katarina Dalayman's Kundry let the team down. Perhaps one in ten of her words was intelligible, and many pitches were approximations. Girard made the Flowermaidens into silly, spear-wielding warrior guards standing in a stage-spanning pool of blood, but nonetheless Kiera Duffy, leading the first battalion, made an auspicious Met debut.
WILLIAM R. BRAUN
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