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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Parsifal Marathon #2

Cast of tonight's Parsifal

I attended my second performance of Parsifal this season. I did not come to this decision lightly. Originally I had a ticket for tomorrow night's Semiramide. But the thought of experiencing Parsifal with René Pape and Peter Mattei was tempting, and I agonized all week about whether to swap out my Semiramide ticket for Parsifal. This included making a poll on Facebook and drawing up pros and cons on an index card. Yeah, I know. But finally after listening to a less-than-impressive livestream of the Semiramide premiere and also armed with the knowledge that there were only 2 performances of Parsifal left while Semiramide is likely to improve during its run, Parsifal it was.

Parsifal marathon buddy
The performance tonight was made more enjoyable because I got to experience it with my friend Bart who flew in from Florida. Wagner is tough to see alone -- those 50 minute intermissions can seem lonely. But with Bart the six hours -- well they didn't fly by but they seemed shorter. I also was sitting in the grand tier tonight as opposed to the orchestra the first night and there really is no comparison with regards to the sight and sound -- the Grand Tier wins unilaterally. You can see the patterns of Carolyn Choa's choreography better, you can see the set better (the blood on the floor of Act 2 and the shallow graves in Act 3 can barely be seen from the orchestra), you can hear everyone better. No wonder seats are so expensive in the Grand Tier.

As for the performance René Pape was not in very good voice tonight -- he seemed to struggle especially in Act 1. I couldn't believe his long monologue which sounded so powerful two weeks ago was barely audible tonight. However, Peter Mattei was even more beautiful and heartbreaking than in the previous performance and Klaus Florian Vogt and Evelyn Herlitzius were vastly improved.  Herlitzius's voice really warmed up in Act 2. It's not my favorite type of voice but much of the thin shrillness was gone. Her acting also improved -- it was less melodramatic, more human. Vogt's acting was way more detailed with less of him being glued to the prompter. I decided I just don't like his interpretation for Parsifal as an extremely detached cold fish and I also am not crazy about the sound of his voice. But Vogt is musical and I'm happy to have finally heard what the fuss was all about. Nikitin is a hoot as Klingsor. Yannick Nezét Séguin's conducting still favors the blustery, dissonant portions of the score but the overall reading was tighter (and faster) than the previous performance I attended. The chorus was amazing.

Another thing about the Girard production: Act One ends with Parsifal peering into the vagina and putting his fingers inside out of curiosity (naughty boy). Act Two takes place in the bloody vagina. At the end of the act the bed even has menstrual blood stains all over it. In Act Three Parsifal puts his spear into the Grail which is being held up by Kundry. Kundry then falls dead from ecstasy (the French call an orgasm "le petite mort"). So I guess Parsifal and Kundry finally consummate the relationship but in a healthy way? So it is a totally "Biblical" experience!

Parsifal and Kundry's consummation?

During intermissions I had a bit of fun imitating the various arm movements of Choa's choreography. Here's a video I made. First I'm the Knights, then I'm Klingsor, then I'm the Flower Maidens. Compare it to the actual video. How'd I do?

Anyway it was a wonderful night. This opera only gets richer upon repeated viewings. In the Met program notes there is a quote by Cosima Wagner that Parsifal "is all so direct!" I hate to agree with Cosima but she is 100% correct -- the love, forgiveness and healing can hit anyone in the solar plexus. Doesn't matter if you're an opera newbie to a hardened opera vet. In other news for the past two weeks I've been glued to the Winter Olympics. I love the summer Olympics but the Winter Olympics has sports that really scare the bejeezus out of me. And of course I love figure skating most, where skaters are asked to form the most vertigo-inducing skills while skating in fancy, flimsy costumes. So many memorable moments but my favorite has to be Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot's gold medal winning performance. I had seen Savchenko in three previous Olympics with a different partner. She was always a powerful skater, but not necessarily a graceful one. But with Bruno Massot she achieved that rare combination of athleticism (those throws! Those lifts!) with artistry. She improved so much in speed, presentation, grace. Who said an old dog can't learn new tricks?


  1. Cool. Glad you chose this over Semiramide and glad to hear/read your reports. I'm going next Tuesday and can't wait. Parsifal is, hands down, my favorite opera. I'm also wicked lucky my 2nd favorite (and RIGHT behind it) is on Thursday night. This old boy from Maine is gonna be happy in NYC again! Thanks for sharing this, Ivy!

  2. Can;t wait to hear your report! And I do plan on going to Semiramide later in the run. I hope Pape is okay when you hear him. He definitely sounded like he was struggling last night.