Monday, March 04, 2013

Thoughts on Parsifal

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Wagner's Parsifal, seen in HD live last Saturday may be the best performance of anything I've ever experienced anywhere.

The work itself has always moved me. I stood through it several times in New York during my younger days. This weekend it made its full affect when seen up close, with titles.
The cast was superb: Jonas Kaufman, Rene Pape, Peter Mattei, Katarina Delayman, Evgeny Nikitin conducted by Daniele Gatti. The production is by Francois Girard. Men in white shirts and dark trousers. Women in black (mimes) Flowermainden in white sheaths.

Here's what struck me seeing this performance "up close". Rene Pape has the mot beautiful voice I've encountered in a long time. Peter Mattei  exhausted the audience with Amfortas's agony but his voice was in no way infirm. Jonas Kaufman turned his move star looks into a touching naivete and nothing about the role troubled him vocally. Daniele Gatti conducted with the expansiveness of a great musician who has this score down-with just the right touch of Italian passion. I have a specially admiration for Italians conducting Wagner. De Sabata's Tristan is especially powerful-yearning times 100.

Of the opera itself, I know the basis in medieval legend. I know the guardianship of the Holy Grail.
When this performance ended I turned to my friend next to me and said "Remember, the Holocaust was going on just over fifty years after this premiered."

How is it possible? I know that Parsifal was banned during the Third Reich. Perhaps Hitler and the composer's wretched family in Bayreuth couldn't countenance "The Perfect Fool" among German manhood.
Was it the music or the megalomania of Wagner's art that Hitler admired.

Parsifal as music is to me the end. Nothing surpasses its beauty and emotional pull. 

 I don't know if Wagner had any sincerity in his Christianity. I've read he wasn't a churchgoer. This opera is not steeped in religion but in Christianity. A Christianity steeped in wounds and blood. Wagner's Christianity? Was the sacred a vehicle for Wagner to write the music he wanted (I never get the sense that Wagner HAD to needed to write music.) I think Wagner thought himself BIGGER than Christianity-that the Deity should be serving Wagner's art.

The sanctity expressed in Parsifal unnerves some people. It doesn't bother me because I don't think much about it. I get the allegories: Speer, blood, grail, madness, sex.

Was Wagner laughing at humanity for being suckered? I think it was Wagner's cynicism that attracted Hitler and much as the grandeur of Wagner's music.

Pieta: Peter Mattei as Amfortas
What impresses me most is the idea of male connections. not homosexuality, not sex but connection. Gurnemanz as the stern but loving father. He's especially touching in his old age. His recognition of
Parsifal in Act III was another performance highlight. Parsifal doesn't know empathy-Kundry's Kiss brings him into humanity-not to sex with her but to the suffering Amfortas.

Amfortas, the king of the grail knights, in his pain and misery is still the king. His vulnerability is what is most shocking to the others, more so than his actual pain. I do appreciate the male-male love depicted in these roles being elevated far above a sexual plane.

I still find a lot of Wagner, well...long. And Parsifal is the longest. I could have sat through it again on Saturday.. I left the theater not wanting to hear any more music and three days later I still don't.  

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