Parsifal Live in HD

Jonas Kaufman as Parsifal(Photo: Hopkins Center for the Arts)
Jonas Kaufman as Parsifal(Photo: Hopkins Center for the Arts)

The Metropolitan Opera continues its live in HD series this Saturday with new Wagner’s Parsifal. This new staging, by Francois Girard, stars Rene Pape, Katarina Delayman, Peter Mattei, and tenor Jonas Kaufmann, in the tile role.

No singer has attracted such a fan base in the past few years quite like Kaufmann. He’s good-looking and has a fantastic voice and he knows how to use it. Parsifal is a hit in New York, and will soon be all over the world.

Of all of Richard Wagner’s long, sometimes ponderous operas,  Parsifal is the longest and to many the most convoluted. First, the knights of the Holy Grail are invaded by an innocent fool. Next, Parsifal is seduced by the sorceress Kundry. However, he manages to just barely avoid her charms and secures the grail for the dying King Amfortas.

This long Christian allegory, Wagner’s final work,  is controversial. There is some perception that Wagner shows antisemitism in some works, such as The Jew in Music.

Wagner will forbade performances of Parsifal outside of his own theater at Bayreuth. Twenty years after the composer’s death, the Metropolitan Opera in New York braved the wrath of  Wagner’s scary widow, Cosima, and her brood, and went ahead with Parsifal. It was billed, not as an opera but as a ’buhnenweihfestpiel’ also known as ‘A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage’. 

Of all of Wagner’s operas, I find this holy knight to be the most addictive. I admire Tristan and Isolde and  I enjoy several f his music dramas. I love  Parsifal and I think it reaches me as music. I needn’t savor the words, nor all of the  dogma of blood, spear, wounds or sex.  From the first bares of the prelude I go into a zen like state, not to emerge for six hours.

Evidence of my love for Parisfal can be seen in my student days and even later, when I would always stand through  Parsifal. Standing room was $2 in my day. It was hard on my feet, but an opera this long is hard on your bottom, even in the cushiest seats, so it was a fair trade.

This new staging is bloody: you see the blood of Amfortas, who was pierced in the side, by the lance that injured Christ. The sorceress Kundry, ageless and doomed, lives under a curse for laughing at Jesus as he was driven toward Golgotha. Parsifal himself is a holy innocent. . He is clueless and rebuked by the aged monk Gurnemanz for killing a swan. However, it is Parsifal, the holy fool, who heals Amfortas and claims the grail.

I’ll be in the cinema this Saturday, sitting I’m sure (get there early–everyone comes out for Wagner). There hasn’t been a cast this strong, with Messrs. Kaufmann, Mattei and Pape and Mme Delayman, since Jon Vickers, Leonie Rysanek, Kurt Moll and James Levine; artists who made standing through this sublime music, bliss.