New York Metropolitan Opera Live in HD seen at FACT Liverpool.
Note that any potential “spoilers” in my description of this production reflect elements of it that have previously been revealed in trailers and publicity from the Met and in their own picture gallery.
For this new production the Met have assembled both an astonishing cast of singers and a brilliant creative team to bring us a sweeping vision of a very difficult work.
Producer François Girard and designer Michael Levine have placed on stage a series of images that are descriptive, congruent and occasionally provocative and which enable the cast, dressed very simply by Thibault Vancraenenbroeck, to act out this story of complex emotions with remarkable clarity. Peter Flaherty’s Video design and David Finn’s lighting are exemplary and give the designs a tremendous sense of atmosphere.
On a desiccated landscape divided by an almost dried up stream and with a continually changing backdrop of stunning video projections, we see groups of singers in slow, elegant movement, mixing symbols of both Christian and Buddhist devotions. As the first act draws to a close, the stage separates, causing the stream to open up into a chasm, into which Parsifal gazes as the curtain falls, contemplating the journey he is to embark upon.
In the second act we find ourselves within this wound that will not heal. The rear wall of the stage becomes a massive cliff face with a fissure running its full height, behind which again are abstract moving images, appearing at times to run with blood. Klingsor’s magic garden is a thing of elegance if not beauty, with long haired, white draped maidens standing amidst a forest of steel spikes. As the action slowly develops we see that the entire stage has been flooded with 1200 viscous gallons of stage blood, the flower maidens’ feet red as they walk about in it. During the act this seeps into the costumes of everyone on stage, with Kundry’s seduction scene played out on a blood soaked mattress. Klingsor himself is a chilling figure, his hair and clothes matted with blood from his first entry. The scene in which the spear is caught by Parsifal is always a problem to stage, and Girard’s solution is both inventive and magical.
The final act finds us in a modified version of act one, with the landscape now littered with the graves of knights, in obvious and pitiful decline since Amfortas’s refusal to reveal the Grail. In the closing scenes as Amfortas is healed and uncovers the Grail, the staging is quite simply breathtaking.
The vocal performances are about as fine as one could hope for throughout. René Pape’s Gurnemanz, Peter Mattei’s Amfortas, Jonas Kaufmann’s Parsifal, Katarina Dalayman’s Kundry and Evgeny Nikitin’s Klingsor are all performances that command our absolute attention. Every one of the principals has genuinely bought into Françoise Girard’s reading of the work and their characterisations have real depth. I would incline to say that they are about as close to vocally flawless in their roles as we could hope to get. When the Met declare this to be a dream cast it would be very hard to disagree with them.
Daniele Gatti too has a clear and consistent feel for the music and directs the Met Orchestra in a broad sweeping reading of the score that allows the music time to breathe without ever losing the sense of forward movement. The chorus too are on top form and support the principals with some superb ensemble singing as well as beautifully coordinated stage movement.
Parsifal is a tremendously difficult work to stage successfully, not only because of the problems of casting singers who are up to the vocal demands, but also because of the demands of the stage directions and in interpreting the emotional plot. Girard’s clarity of concept for this production really does do justice to Wagner’s vision.
One lady I spoke to was uncertain; disappointed that the magic garden lacked the fairytale quality that she preferred, but I would incline to say that even fairytales can be played out dark without losing their magic. Whilst this reading may not suit all tastes I think it would be a hard person to please who could not find a great deal to like in this production, which must be destined to remain in the Met’s repertoire for some time.
Screen direction for the HD cinema relay was excellent, with good use of camera angles giving a feel for the sweep and scale of the production. The voices were very immediate, if at times a little too prominently miked. I am inclined to agree with a friend who was present that the orchestral sound occasionally lacked a little weight in the lower registers, but I am sure that this was more to do with the sound reproduction than in the playing itself.
There will be a repeat screening of this as “Met Encore” this Tuesday, 5th March at 1:00pm.
For further details of screenings from the Met see: http://www.fact.co.uk/ or http://www.metoperafamily.org
Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal - Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera