The Metropolitan Opera (‘the Met’) has offered the world a new Parsifal in 2013 directed by Françios Girard. This producion, in partnership with the Canadian Opera Company (COC) and Opéra National de Lyon, premièred in Lyon last year. It was mounted this year in New York at the Met, replacing the traditional style production directed by Otto Schenk.
The March 2nd performance was part of the Met’s HD broadcasts and featured Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal, Rene Papé as Gurnemanz, Katarina Dalayman as Kundry, Peter Matti as Amfortas, and Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor. The performance was conducted by Daniele Gatti.
This production is a more modern, updated retelling of the story of the Holy Grail. For the most part, I did not enjoy the style.
Act 1 starts with us seeing the knights apparently ‘joining’ the order – taking off their jackets, ties, shoes, and socks and then sitting in a circle off to the side during the Prelude. Until the scene in Monsalvat, they would remain seated in this circle. Women, with veils, stood on the other side. The set – very basic as it was – looked like a dried out riverbed with a small creek running through it. And this remained throughout the Act. As Act One takes place first in a forest, and then within the walls of Monsalvat, this was certainly looked totally different than what Wagner wrote.
Act 2 takes place in what looks somewhat like a valley, and the stage is filled with blood. The Flowermaidens, standing with long black hair covering their faces and behind metal spears were seen at the start of the Act. They would eventually depart for a short time during the duet between Parsifal and Kundry – only to return with a bed prior to the kiss and Parsifal’s aria.
Unlike most productions where Kundry kisses Parsifal and he pushes her away, in this production Kundry kisses Parsifal and Parsifal kisses her back before realizing that it is wrong to do so. During his aria “Amfortas! Die Wunde!” Parsifl sings “Save Me! Resue Me, from hands defiled by sin!” In this production, Parsifal’s hands are red from the blood on stage which makes the aria moving and a benefit of all the blood on the stage.
The conclusion of Act 2, which creates a directorial nightmare as Wagner instructs Klingsor to throw the Spear at Parsifal, almost drops the whole seen. When Klingsor appears, the Flowermaidens, who have remained on stage after bringing out the be, lift the metal spears and point them at Parsifal as Klingsor points the Spear at Parsifal and Parsifal simply lifts his hand to stop Klingsor and simply takes the Spear ojut of his hand. Mr. Girard really let us down on this.
Act 3 takes place again on the dried riverbed. This time though, we see a dead knight being buried. The knights outfits are in tatters – which makes sense as they are now only waiting for the end to their suffering to come at last. Another hole, waiting for Titurel later in the Act, is seen near the front. Until the Good Friday Music starts, the creek remains dry. Parsifal and Gurnemanz both look much older – which does make sense as it has been about 10 years since the end of Act 2. However, there are no flowers during the Good Friday Music, apparently Mr. Girard did not bother reading the that part of the Libretto.
The Monsalvat scene sees the men on one side of the stage again with the women on another side. They would stay like this until the end of the opera when they would mingle together. Kundry arrives at Monsalvat first and brings out the Grail in its box only for Amfortas to refuse to open the box. How she beats Gurnemanz and Parsifal back to Monsalvat is a mystery to me. After he orders the Grail uncovered, Parsifl slowly raises up the spear and places the tip into the Grail, re-uniting the two parts of the Holy Grail. After this, Kundry slowly sinks down and dies. The opera closes with Parsifal holding the Grail in the air as the chorus kneels.
In conclusion, I have mixed emotions over this production. While I loved the singing and the music, the staging for the most part left me disappointed. The blood in Act 2 was interesting but certainly overdone and expensive – apparently it is heated to 105 degrees fahrenheit before it is pumped onto the stage and then place on top of heaters to keep it warm. A large expense that certainly could have been avoided. Although I do love that Parsifal has blood on his hand during his “Amfortas! Die Wunde!” aria.
It will be interesting to see if any changes are made prior to this production being performed in Toronto with the COC. Can the production be better? Yes. Could it have been a lot worse? Yes. And I will be seeing it again in a couple of years at the COC.