Metropolitan Opera On Demand
Performance Date: 2nd March, 2013
#CoronaCouchOpera, Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn
11th April, 2020
If you’re looking for something more profound to add to the Easter eggs and hot cross buns to celebrate the Easter weekend but don’t quite see yourself switching onto one of the many streamed masses to mark Christ’s death and resurrection, you could consider turning to opera. The latest Met Opera free nightly opera steam is Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Based on a Medieval story concerning the wandering fool Parsifal who is destined to become the saviour of the Grail Knights, Wagner’s final, epic work champions humility, compassion and enlightenment. We need those qualities now, as always, and God knows we have the time like never before to mull over and soak us in its sublimity.
Parsifal demands more than four hours of time but when the overture begins, it’s a music that initiates its erasure and beckons a landscape of tranquility and hope within a spiritual-like realm. In the pit, Italian Conductor Daniele Gatti conveys that spirituality with great sensitivity with various tempi leaning toward an unhurried yet malleable nature.
In French-Canadian director François Girard’s barren and gloomy production which premiered in 2013, scenes of forests and meadows, castles and wondrous gardens which Wagner’s libretto refers to are nowhere in sight. From the start, Girard sets about establishing a ritualistic tone. Movements are as restrained as the dramatic momentum. Girard’s knights are uniformed in contemporary-styled black trousers and white shirts, the flower maidens who attempt to seduce Parsifal are a sway of flimsy white fabric while the temptress, Kundry, is a bedraggled gypsy. And there’s blood, lots of it, including a pool of blood in which Kundry and the maidens dance and cavort. It is undoubtedly blood as sin.
Featuring a trench of running water dividing a parched earth with menacing skies in the distance, Act 1 is the setting for the soul-searching Amfortas, King of the Grail Knights, who desperately seeks forgiveness after receiving a wound from the sacred spear he was entrusted to after being seduced by Kundry in the domain of the expelled knight, Klingsor. As Amfortas, Swedish baritone Peter Mattei baritone brings compelling heat and reverberant strength to a man punished like no other, acting as if living the pain and guilt in superb performance.
As Gurnemanz, veteran Knight of the Grail, Italian bass René Pape expresses the perceptive but steadfastly firm ministerial-like authority of his character in richly brewed vocal depth and impressive control. Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman, whose distinctive stature and dramatic textures were recently witnessed in Victorian Opera’s Parsifal last year in Melbourne, brings fiery radiance and fierce darkness with extraordinary height and depth as a disturbed Kundry and, introduced in his cavernous domain in a pool of blood, bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin’s menacing Klingsor is brought to evil life in crisp and sculptured stoney form.
And the glorious title role? Renowned German tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, is an ideal Parsifal. When he first appears in Act, his Parsifal is as perplexed as anyone would be by the ceremonial oddities he finds himself witnessing and is in hot demand by slinking maidens in Act 2. Kaufmann’s Parsifal moves with gentleness and poise, the vocal load building from Act 1 to the brilliant power expressing the agony of Amfortas’ wound in Parsifal’s revelatory “Amfortas! - Die Wunde! - Die Wunde!” and a coruscating final aria when the spear heals Amfortas’ wound and the Holy Grail is uncovered.
And when Gurnemanz sings “... you who have suffered everything He suffered. Allow this one burden to be lifted from your head”, guilt is washed away in a sign of forgiveness we can all seek on our own way to enlightenment.