Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’: A survival guide

Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

A scene from Act I of Wagner’s “Parsifal,” taken during a Feb. 8 rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

1. Richard Wagner’s gargantuan opera runs five hours and 40 minutes. If you attend The MET: Live in HD performance Saturday at Fort Lewis College, remember, it starts at 10 a.m. Bring a pillow, blanket and a thermos of coffee.

2. Between acts, there will be intermissions: 37 and 23 minutes each.

3. Sandwiches, salads and coffee at a quick turnaround will be available in the FLC cafeteria down the hall.

4. Two restrooms are located outside the main door and side exit to the Vallecito Room, where the opera will be screened.

5. The new staging of Wagner’s monsterpiece is not only rare, but a touchstone in contemporary design and concept. That the cast brims with Wagnerian specialists is an added bonus, for example, “Parsifal” will be sung by the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the evil Klingsor by Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin.

6. Wagner got the idea for “Parsifal” when he first composed “Lohengrin,” his 1845 opera about the son of Parsifal. Almost 40 years later, the highly successful and controversial bad boy of German music composed the prequel, which you’ll see Saturday.

7. Wagner stipulated that “Parsifal” would forever be staged exclusively at the composer’s theater in Bayreuth. It premiered July 26, 1882, a few months before the composer’s death.

8. Defying Wagner’s wishes, other European opera companies began to stage the work, often facing legal challenges by the family. Daringly, the Met mounted the U.S. premiere in 1903 as part of its first season. The Met survived its own legal battle, and subsequent New York stagings occurred in 1920, 1956, 1970 and 1991. Now the 2013 version, created by French-Canadian film and theater director Francois Girard, has a post apocalyptic setting.

9. Warning: there will be blood. Anyone who has seen Girard’s movie, “The Red Violin,” will understand his fascination for blood as a dramatic driving force. Act One begins metaphorically inside a wound-that-will-not-heal. Amfortas, the leader of the Knights of the Holy Grail, is ill, suffering and, most likely, dying. The world is in despair. He can only be healed by an innocent fool, which is Parsifal’s cue. There are references to the Last Supper, the bread and wine of the Eucharist and Christ’s blood.

In Act II, Klingsor, the Prince of Darkness who was rejected from membership in the Brotherhood, weighs in on the matter. He secures the magical Kundry to seduce and ruin Parsifal. In an extraordinary scene played in a sea of blood, the lad finally resists temptation and awakens from his stupor.

10. In case you’re worried about how this blood-and-despair opera ends, Parsifal saves the Grail Brotherhood. More won’t be said about this extraordinary fairy tale full of rituals and pretty obvious religious themes. Don’t miss the opening stage pictures during the prelude. A reflecting curtain will show the Met audience and then more people will be seen behind the curtain. The director may to be saying this story is about us, too.

jreynolds@durangoherald.com. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.

Most Read in Arts

Newsarrow

Sportsarrow

Arts & Entertainmentarrow

Opinionarrow

Columnistsarrow

Classifiedsarrow

Call Us

View full site


© The Durango Herald