It was a first-time event for me on Saturday. I went to our local movie complex that features the Metropolitan Opera in HD. The opera was Parsifal by Richard Wagner. I was raised on opera, especially those by Wagner, so I was really predisposed and conditioned to LOVE it! Wrong. I’d heard that this opera is considered ‘unstageable.’ Now I know why.
It was so darkly lit I could barely decipher anything that was happening on stage, except for the middle act, which I really could have done without. More on that later. I was SO bummed. I’d been looking forward to this so much, and the production came over as just blah! The singing was marvelous, I have to say that — the principals were uniformly superb, especially Jonas Kaufmann in the title role! The orchestra was great, as always, but then one hardly ever sees them anyway. And even in the second and third acts when DIE HARD was blowing up the world in the theater to the left and GIANT in 3D!!! was blowing up their part on the right side, you could still slightly make out the music underneath all those thunderous rumblings!!
The first act was two hours long. TWO HOURS!!!! It went on and on and on, full of mysticism and ritualism, which didn’t make much sense to me, especially as it seemed as though it was taking place at the bottom of a coal mine. With no candles anywhere. There were maybe 60 men in the men’s chorus (the same number of ladies in theirs, but they were not often on the stage at the same time.) I admit to perking up some as the men who were in dark suits with white shirts w/ cufflinks!, and ties, proceeded to do a sort of strip tease right there in front of everybody. They stopped once the jackets and cufflinks were in a neat pile on the floor in front of them, while the ties all went in each guy’s left hand front trouser pocket. Drat! The symbolism of that one escapes me. But I digress.
They moved around slowly in a circle — I kept thinking of kaleidoscopes, for some reason — the constantly changing patterns, I suppose. Then one of the men sang a long solo, followed by another one — who’d been injured by a spear and was dying, but he didn’t want to let go. Then there was a woman wallowing around on the floor, all the time singing very seductively. Then a not-quite-dead swan fell out of the sky (actually it was carried on stage by one of the young women. I neglected to say they were all wearing a sort of ballet dress — minimal top with ribbon straps, and a flowing chiffon skirt in what used to be called waltz length. Everyone – men and women – were barefoot! Shortly after the swan, came the young handsome dude who didn’t know who he was, where he came from, who his father was, or anything else much, either. He was the ‘fool’. Believe it or not, this stretched on for two hours! I was so relieved when the first intermission arrived.
They had a brief chat with the ‘fool’ – the gorgeous tenor, Jonas Kaufmann – who talked about the production, his new Wagner CD (which I bought tonight, thanks for the alert!) and then chatted in German to the international viewing audience, via camera. Something like ‘hi Mom!’ Or not. After him they chatted with René Pape, an equally gorgeous bass, and he also chatted in German to the audience.
The second act was only about an hour, maybe a bit more, although it seemed longer than the first act did. Why? It was quite well lit, so we could SEE what was happening on stage. Ugh. The entire stage was made into a blood pool. Really. It was full of liquid something to about ankle depth. Actually, the technical wizard for the Met was also interviewed, and he explained that it was water, food coloring and food-quality glycerin, at a temperature of about 105°F, so no one would get cold feet! Thoughtful of them, I must say, considering that those same white gowns worn by the women in the first act were worn in this one, too, and by the time the act was over, most of the white gowns were red to about the hip level, some even higher, depending on how much they were really wallowing around in that goop. Oh, and I forgot to say, they all had long, straight black hair — when I say long, I mean they could have sat on it with no trouble. In some cases it might even have been knee-length. It was loose, and very likely to become reddish in color from the blood pool. One of the men was bathing in it, and splashing around, then the woman from the first act, who’d been in black then, was now in white, and also red before she left the stage. As was the bed which was lowered from above somewhere, so that she and the fool could ‘fool around’ a bit. He was all red, too, before they finally parted company after only one kiss. End of that act! And not any too soon, either!
During the second intermission they interviewed the producer François Girard, and the conductor, Daniele Gatti, who spoke nicely in English, but with a charming French or Italian touch, respectively. The conductor, by the way, didn’t use a score. Five plus hours by memory! He’s a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
The third act was back in the coal mine again. With the men. Towards the end of the act, the women returned, but this time they were in black. No idea of the style, as black on black is quite hard to decipher. It was post-Apocalypse timing, sort of, which is why everyone was grubby and tattered, and you couldn’t see anything very well. All the movements — and there were a goodly bit of synchronized hand/arm movements — were very well choreographed, and together! (Lotsa practice, there!) The backdrops which had been most interesting throughout – beautiful multi-color clouds and skyscapes – provided us with a very close-up view of a planet during this last act. Truly interesting and picturesque.
Well, it finally ended. The audience at the Met was ecstatic. On their feet, yelling and carrying on. The audience in the theater, however, being mostly senior citizens, were busily struggling to simply get ON their feet, in order to vacate the place. Who can blame them?
It was my mistake to have chosen Parsifal for my first-ever theater opera. I knew it was long — I’ve heard it on the radio lots of times — and frankly, I think I’d have been able to see just as much if I’d simply stayed home and watched the radio. Honestly, I think a concert version would work a lot better!
The terrific soloists were: Katarina Dalayman (Kundry), Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal), Peter Mattei (Amfortas), Evgeny Nikitin (Klingsor) and René Pape (Gurnemanz).
And the technical staff were: Michael Levine (Set Designer), Thibault Vancraenenbroeck (Costume Designer –hand’s down, the best theatrical name I’ve ever encountered!), David Finn (Lighting Designer), Peter Flaherty (Video Designer), Carolyn Choa (Choreographer) and Serge Lamothe (Dramaturg).
The very congenial Live in HD Host bass-baritone Eric Owens.
With apologies (and thanks) to the great Andy Griffith who did this sort of thing first (some 50+ years ago) and MUCH better! (Remember ‘What it was was Football’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’? I think there was also a ‘Hamlet’, but I don’t remember for sure.) Sadly, Mr. Griffith is no longer with us.
Comments? Questions? Feel free! I’d love to hear from anyone else who attended this movie event, wherever.