SandyMcKean

Met's "Parsival"

48 posts in this topic

I was absolutely transfixed by the Saturday live HD broadcast. I have no data to back up this claim, but it seemed to me that this performance must have been Jonas Kaufmann's career best performance. Astonishing.

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The music is beautiful, the singing was fantastic, I loved what Girard and set designer Michael Levine did, but could the story be any more regressive in its view of women?

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Well that's Wagner for ya, have you read his views on Jews? I had to read them in the original German back in my university days. That put me off German literature permanently.

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I saw Wagner and Me earlier this winter, with Stephen Fry trying to reconcile his love for the music with his disdain for the composer's beliefs. A difficult juggling act, and I'm not sure he pulled it off, but I admire his willingness to grapple with difficult things in public.

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The music is beautiful, the singing was fantastic, I loved what Girard and set designer Michael Levine did, but could the story be any more regressive in its view of women?

Definitely agree w. you about Wagner's view of women. However, in this production, did you notice that Kundry is the person who brings forth the grail at the end of the opera. That was an interesting and unanticipated event, because I would have assumed that women were forbidden to touch it. Also, at the end of the opera the women and the men reunite and are no longer on separate sides of the stage. Very interesting production. There have also been some interesting reviews regarding the sexual imagery in the production - particularly the second act.

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Jonas Kaufmann astonished me every single time he opened his mouth. Such a beautiful and strong sound comes out. If anyone else had sung Parsifal I would have skipped this. But he was outstanding. I was a bit disappointed in Rene Pape who is usually excellent. I felt some of the comprimario basses had a darker sound in comparison. He simply sounded lightweight in the role and the fact he did not have a forceful personality in the role didn't help. Very very surprised b/c I liked him in previous things even Boris Godunov. Kundry is such a difficult role especially that "Ich lachte!" high jump into the depths (high and then low), an almost impossible moment to get right. So we can't expect any Kundry to be great. We can only hope for decent. Dalayman was "okay." Not great, not terrible.

I didn't hate the production, but I thought it was overall boring. I wished for more moments (images) like when the earth opened up and Kaufmann reached into the bloody abyss. That was a poetic image and I thought the production would have more moments like that. I thought the flower maidens looked too much like characters in Japanese horror films.

I don't really think we need to have people dressed in modern clothes to make things relevant as the director implied in one of the intermissions. I don't know why directors keep saying and thinking that. You could stage anything in period and if well done, people will relate and cry or be touched. Humans are humans. This idea of modern dress in an attempt to make things relevant is hogwash. Occasionally I like a modern or crazy production (like the Copenhagen Ring), but overall I think there is no reason to attempt to make it relevant by using modern dress. It will be relevant to us if acted and sung well b/c it will move us. Sometimes I think it is an excuse to cut costs on costumes.

Parsifal is a long opera. Even for someone who loves the music it goes on a bit too long, in my opinion. I am sure some disagree with it being too long, but I think Wagner was a lunatic. Most artists suffer for their art. Wagner wanted us to suffer for his art! LOL The first act of Parsifal (2 hours), the first act of Götterdämmerung (2 hours), final act of Meistersinger (2 hours) and all of Rheingold (2 1/2 hours or more with no intermission) requires that I do not drink hardly anything all morning and day before a performance, so I am not dying and crying to pee. I suck on mints all day instead of drinking.

Wagner doesn't seem like a human being most of us would have wanted to spend much time around, but his music is glorious. However, there is an obsessive quality. I warn friends who want to see Tristan und Isolde or Parsifal for the first time (and don't get me wrong I LOVE both operas) that nothing happens for hours!!!!!!! LOL Characters in Wagner tend to tell the story and repeat and repeat and repeat.....I really do think Wagner was a lunatic!!!! But love his works anyway.

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There have also been some interesting reviews regarding the sexual imagery in the production - particularly the second act.

The spear going into the grail at the end while Kundry held the grail was "hit you over the head" sexual.....so I agree....lots of sexual imagery, but I think that is already there without clobbering us over the head. That's the problem I have with these directors. They think none of us have read Freud or noticed certain things in works of art, etc. So they lead us by the nose to discover these things, when we will discover them as we get to know the works more and more (by seeing them over and over). I think many directors do not have faith in the work itself. All great works are multi-layered and can be read in many different ways even if done exactly as the libretto states. Of course, I don't believe in following the libretto to the extreme and I am not against different stagings and even sometimes a crazy production. But I think we have to have faith in these works and faith in the audience to see things without hammering us.

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I don't really think we need to have people dressed in modern clothes to make things relevant as the director implied in one of the intermissions. I don't know why directors keep saying and thinking that. You could stage anything in period and if well done, people will relate and cry or be touched. Humans are humans. This idea of modern dress in an attempt to make things relevant is hogwash. Occasionally I like a modern or crazy production (like the Copenhagen Ring), but overall I think there is no reason to attempt to make it relevant by using modern dress. It will be relevant to us if acted and sung well b/c it will move us. Sometimes I think it is an excuse to cut costs on costumes.

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This is so true. A couple of days ago I went to see a rare produccion of Handel's "Agrippinna". It was a lovely produccion by the school of music of the Florida International University, and I really enjoyed it everything but the choice of the AD to disregard the period and instead dress the characters in such a mitch match that I couldn't really make sense of. It is even more confusing in historical dramas for those who are not too familiar with historical facts and characters.

I think this will be the same case in the upcoming Giulio Cesare...

cesare-dessay-daniels-2web.jpg

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I saw Parsifal live in the Big House, so I was not aware of the interviews that were broadcast to the HD audience. Did the director have anything else of interest to say? Did they interview anyone else during these interminable intermissions?

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I don't really think we need to have people dressed in modern clothes to make things relevant as the director implied in one of the intermissions. I don't know why directors keep saying and thinking that. You could stage anything in period and if well done, people will relate and cry or be touched. Humans are humans. This idea of modern dress in an attempt to make things relevant is hogwash. Occasionally I like a modern or crazy production (like the Copenhagen Ring), but overall I think there is no reason to attempt to make it relevant by using modern dress. It will be relevant to us if acted and sung well b/c it will move us. Sometimes I think it is an excuse to cut costs on costumes.

"It will be relevant to us if acted and sung well b/c it will move us."

But if that's the case, you can indeed work with alternatives to the original setting/era, and it will still work as theater. I haven't seen this production so haven't any opinion about this staging, but I have seen plenty of productions where the director made choices outside of the original stage directions, and the result was an amazing show. I think, fundamentally, we actually agree -- in opera, the core of the work is the music -- if that's in the right place, everything orbiting around it will contribute to the total effect (lordy -- "Gesamkunstwerk" before noon?). If the music is weak, everything else is out of balance.

Parsifal is a long opera. Even for someone who loves the music it goes on a bit too long, in my opinion. I am sure some disagree with it being too long, but I think Wagner was a lunatic. Most artists suffer for their art. Wagner wanted us to suffer for his art! LOL The first act of Parsifal (2 hours), the first act of Götterdämmerung (2 hours), final act of Meistersinger (2 hours) and all of Rheingold (2 1/2 hours or more with no intermission) requires that I do not drink hardly anything all morning and day before a performance, so I am not dying and crying to pee. I suck on mints all day instead of drinking.

"Wagner wanted us to suffer for his art!"

Oh, this makes me giggle! We've got the Ring coming up this summer, and already I'm thinking strategically. I've been using Ricola cough drops but your comment makes me think I should shop around.

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I loved what Girard and set designer Michael Levine did.....

Me too. It created an "other world" that to me is so appropriate for this spiritually based opera. Some of the video images were extremely effective. I also loved the stark contrast of Act I and Act III from Act II. Parsival wanders the "real" world in Act II before returning to the purity of the Holy Grail sanctuary where he so mysteriously found himself in Act I. Taking Wagner's point of view when he wrote this (rather than my POV), the "real" world is full of corruption and lack of integrity. This production made me feel that so strongly. Unlike a previous comment in this thread, I absolutely loved, loved, loved the way the flower maidens were portrayed. Let's face it, Wagner was obsessed by sex and the allure of the female charm (heck, it practically drove all his choices in his own life). As a man, I understood more than I can ever put into words the seductive power of the maidens that tempt Parsival. I think this production succeeded in spectacular fashion in its rendition of this very powerful tempting force I have no doubt Wagner felt in his life.

My one regret is that I won't see this production in the theater. The HD broadcasts are terrific, but the nuances of the lighting (and everything else in this production) is so subtle that I don't think the dynamics of HD video technology can possibly capture what the theater audience must see.

.....but could the story be any more regressive in its view of women?

I understand this complaint (assuming its a complaint), but I don't agree it is valid. We can't place 21st century values on a mid 19th century piece of art. Parsival speaks to the spiritual inner being of us all (and I don't mean that religiously). That he picked an an all male order to represent purity of spirit, as well as picking a woman to represent temptation, is his prerogative. Clearly, the piece is some sort of homage to Christianity (its good parts, not its bad parts), and the role of Kundry is completely consistent with the first page of Genesis......besides Kundry does not freely choose this way of being; indeed, she struggles against it; she is trapped by Klingsor until she is redeemed by Parsival's forgiveness. Can't we just allow an artist to make his/her choices without all this hyper-sensitivity? I don't care if it's Kundry or putting cow dung on the Virgin Mary, everyone is free to dislike whatever piece of art they choose, but allow the art to stand.

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Can't we just allow an artist to make his/her choices without all this hyper-sensitivity?

It would certainly be pleasant if the the issue were that simple. Such choices matter and people will criticize, praise, or otherwise discuss them, and they may arrive at conclusions with which you disagree.

Nice comments, all, thanks.

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Such choices matter

My God, these choices were made 130 years ago!

If you mean that the production designers and directors ought to tone down Wagner's choices.......that I vehemently oppose. The last thing we should ever do is water down the art of past centuries to somehow appease today's sensibilities.

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It is possible to examine classic works critically without accepting or employing presentism (using the word in its literary/historical sense) in its cruder forms.

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If you mean that the production designers and directors ought to tone down Wagner's choices.......that I vehemently oppose.

That make two of us. When I went to see Handel's Agrippinna, I wanted to see a proper Roman setting. Instead I got some weird stuff that up until now I can't decide what was that about. The main thing I see about this is that eventually all this fantasy playing with historical settings could get so confused for some who're not that familiar with the work that, even if well sung and acted, can eventually interfere with the whole experience. I think they somehow ignore the lesser familiarity of the non cognoscenti audience.

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We come back to various aspects of this topic (presenting materials/ideas that have become unacceptable over time) regularly, whether they are based in ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or something else. Fundamentally, this is the same difficulty we have with the contemporary portrayal of blackface, which we've grappled with in ballets like Petroushka. I have no grand solution to offer, except to say that these references make an artwork into an historical artifact (we're fine looking at it as long as we realize it doesn't represent our current attitudes) -- a work-around approach to certain parts of the repertory, but it has a distancing affect that I'm afraid undercuts the actual artwork.

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cubanmiamiboy & sandik,

We see eye to eye in some ways but not others.....which is just fine.

When I say that we should not modify the original artist's intent simply to conform to our current sensibilities, I did not mean to extend that to moving an opera or ballet into a different time period or setting. The directors and designers (and others) are artists too, so we also need to allow them artistic license as they create. Some succeed in their efforts and some don't (and we each get to judge that success or lack of success for ourselves); however, I don't think such modern artists should modify a long dead artist's work in terms of content or meaning. Make the meaning more clear, give the meaning a new twist, update the meaning to make it more understandable (careful with this one tho).....all fine in my book; but change the original intent, or disguise the meaning not for artistic reasons but for reason that simply make it more acceptable, that makes a mockery out of art. In the case of Parsifal, Wagner's intent for both Kundry and the flower maidens is quite clear -- they are to be seductresses and temptresses -- not modern day business executives or some other image than emphasizes a more "acceptable" female image. Wagner is saying what he is saying. Modify how it is told perhaps, but let's not change what is being said.

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In the case of Parsifal, Wagner's intent for both Kundry and the flower maidens is quite clear -- they are to be seductresses and temptresses -- not modern day business executives or some other image than emphasizes a more "acceptable" female image.

I don't think anyone was proposing to rewrite Kundry as Sheryl Sandberg. It's a more nuanced question of how to approach works that reflect cultural attitudes that we no longer share - considerations of why the work presents such difficulties for us today, what (if anything) should be changed to make a troubling work palatable to modern sensibilities, and what (if anything) can be changed or interpreted without sanitizing the past in such a way that the essential spirit of the work is violated. These are large questions and like sandik I have no all-encompassing remedy.....

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And I suppose all this back and forth discussion is why directors want to re-interpret, because there is so much and I have to admit that SOMETIMES it works for me when they highlight certain things that I have not thought of.....and obviously, this is provoking a lot of thought and discussion, so maybe it is a positive thing when directors fiddle around.

So I am not black and white about directors and their productions. I have seen some wild productions that I actually enjoyed and I have seen some traditional productions that bored me to tears. So there is no absolute. Sometimes a traditional production is wonderful. Sometimes a re-interpretation is wonderful.

My main comment was how this director made a specific comment that he put characters in modern dress to make the opera relevant. I guess I should have explained that I am not always against that BUT I disagree that putting characters in modern dress makes the story more relevant. As I said, the other choices (how the characters interact with each other which is usually the director's choice too) are what makes an opera relevant, in my opinion. I can watch Norma singing to the Moon in quasi-Druid (although usually it looks more Roman) garb and still relate to how she feels about her situation.

As for interviews that someone asked about above I don't know. I think I caught a tail end interview with Rene Pape, but I really didn't see much of the intermission features, b/c I ran out to pee each time an act ended and then I stayed in the lobby to read emails and texts on my phone. Sometimes I enjoy the intermission features, but usually it is just a lot of blah, blah, blah......I did catch a portion of them showing the backstage crew cleaning up the water from the second act. I found that sort of interesting. A lot of work (it looked like). I wondered how they would get rid of the water in that act.

I didn't hate this production at all. But I think I wanted a little more poetry. My favorite moment was when Parsifal reaches into the abyss (I guess it was supposed to be where he was going in the next act). I thought that was a very beautiful image and made you think about what it might mean. I would have liked more images like that (since they had the video projections.

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I have seen some wild productions that I actually enjoyed and I have seen some traditional productions that bored me to tears. So there is no absolute. Sometimes a traditional production is wonderful. Sometimes a re-interpretation is wonderful.

I, for one, completely agree with you here.

I disagree that putting characters in modern dress makes the story more relevant.

Here my perspective is somewhat different, but not in principle. As I heard the interview (BTW, I like the interviews, and I sit thru them all.....peeing later wink1.gif), I didn't hear him say those words as an absolute which would apply to everyone; rather I heard it as an attempt by the production team to increase the odds that it would seem more relevant to more audience members. For you, you obviously don't need the "assist", but for others it might have made a big difference. Let's face it, many, many folks who see Parsifal find it hard to relate to (including a young friend of mine just getting into opera who I tried to warn but who went anyway -- her first Wagner opera!!). For me, I fall in the middle. I didn't "need" the modern dress relevancy assist, but I did find it effective in disallowing me to place the entire spectacle into "another time and place...far, far away" as so often happens with Parsifal. To me, Parsifal is completely relevant for all human beings since it addresses the basic issues of what it means to be human. If modern dress makes that experience more accessible to more than a hand full of audience members, then I am all for the experiment.

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OMG!!! Parsifal is the last opera a newbie should attend!!!! LOL That poor woman!!!! This makes me laugh!!!

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OMG!!! Parsifal is the last opera a newbie should attend!!!! LOL That poor woman!!!! This makes me laugh!!!

But that's exactly the problem. Why make things more confusing for the "newbies"...? On top of tyring to explain to a less than experienced companion the original context or historical setting one has to guess-(and explain...or rather, try to explain, as we might not be completely sure of the sense of the twisting)-the why of the final result, then...

And then there could be the question of "Why did they change the libretto...?", for which I usually have the most cruel and sarcastic answers.

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OMG!!! Parsifal is the last opera a newbie should attend!!!! LOL That poor woman!!!! This makes me laugh!!!

But that's exactly the problem. Why make things more confusing for the "newbies"...? On top of tyring to explain to a less than experienced companion the original context or historical setting one has to guess-(and explain...or rather, try to explain, as we might not be completely sure of the sense of the twisting)-the why of the final result, then...

And then there could be the question of "Why did they change the libretto...?", for which I usually have the most cruel and sarcastic answers.

I pretty much agree with what you say, but to play Devil's Advocate the libretto is almost always printed in the program and nowadays the newbie can read the story online before they go to the opera, if they are interested in knowing what they are going to see. I do think opera is best when you've done some homework. Knowing the music somewhat only helps you enjoy it. Knowing the story ahead of time helps you not get confused. I have never understood just showing up to something like Parsifal without knowing anything about it. But each person approaches entertainment and art differently. A lot of people like to show up to an opera house before the show and listen to some guy tell the story right before the show starts. I usually find those things boring and do not attend, unless it is a special lecture about a rarely performed work and they are giving musical examples that you should listen for.

Basically, my point is that a newbie has access to the original story online or in his/her program that they can read before the curtain rises. And often there is a little historical info page too (not always). So I think a newbie can get by just reading the libretto quickly before the lights go down.

And believe it or not, I think newbies are more likely to enjoy a modern dress production. They are not upset. But those same people, once they become seasoned opera goers, start to want to finally see a production that has some resemblance to the actual story!!!! LOL

There is a website that often posts pictures from opera productions and everyone is supposed to guess which opera, and there is usually NO WAY to tell which opera it is. It could be anything so if you guess you have to make a totally wild stab in the dark at which opera is depicted in the photographs. That's how bad things have gotten!!!! LOL Part of me finds it humorous. Part of me finds it sad.

By the way, I saw photographs from one Parsifal in Europe where Kundry was wearing an alligator's head!!!! I think I would have burst out laughing when she came on stage. However, I read the original story of Parsifal and Kundry is depicted as almost a creature that is ugly and not human, or only half human, so there is some reason to do this, but I guess since I live in Gainesville where University of Florida's mascot is the Gators an alligator head is a bit much for me on Kundry!

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cubanmiamiboy,

I "hear" what you're saying, and for such operas, let's say La Boheme for sake of argument, if a company does a production (as some in Europe might) that completely takes the opera out of context (i.e., Paris during the Bohemian period), then I'd agree with you totally; but with an opera like Parsifal, there really is no defined context. What setting is "natural" for Parsifal? For me at least, Parsifal is not of this time and not of this place. It is timeless. There is no story per se, but rather an exploration into the inner world of spirit and existence. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that this production clarified the meaning. Frankly, I don't know how Act II could be more clear that Parsifal goes into the "world" and is tempted away from the purity, integrity, and peace to be had with the Knights of the Holy Grail (BTW, I disagree with Wagner that such "purity" offers anything other than cloister-ism to coin a word). As I see it, Parsifal is an opera you can set in almost any way imaginable without negatively impacting the "story".

As an aside, the young lady (she's about 30) I spoke of did not attend the opera with me. We were in 2 different theaters 100 miles apart. We have attended the same theater in the past (this was her 4 opera I think), but this time we simply texted at intermissions and used email after the performance......ah, today's world of technology smile.png.

Birdsall,

I agree with almost all you say except for the usefulness of pre-performance lectures. Here in Seattle, the Seattle Opera does a marvelous job of educating its audience with lectures and post-performance Q&A. As it happens, I saw La Boheme Friday night (just 12 hours before Parsifal.....quite an experience to see those 2 vastly different operas in less than 24 hours let me tell you!!). I know Boheme very well having seen it many times, but the lecture enhanced my experience immensely. Clearly, the quality of the lectured material makes the difference; and here at Seattle Opera, we have folks who prepare incredibly insightful material. That you would have found it boring, I can't imagine. (BTW, the lectures at Seattle Opera are always full of musical examples -- played over the speakers, sometimes played live on a piano, and often discussed with a section of the score displayed on the screen.)

Just one aspect of the lecture opened me up to something I had never seen in La Boheme before.....the use of the metaphor of "the seasons" to express the passage of time as one progresses thru life as a youth, to full adult, to the wisdom of pain and suffering......the loss of innocence. Sure enough there were all sorts of such references in the text of the libretto, as displayed in the super tiltles, that I had never appreciated before that lecture.

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cubanmiamiboy,

I "hear" what you're saying, and for such operas, let's say La Boheme for sake of argument, if a company does a production (as some in Europe might) that completely takes the opera out of context (i.e., Paris during the Bohemian period), then I'd agree with you totally; but with an opera like Parsifal, there really is no defined context.

I agree. True that certain works are easier to play with than some more defined ones in terms of historical context. Still...Wagner DID indeed give stage directions for what he wanted the audience to see . Factual things like place-(Monsalvat/Montserrat, Spain)-and the fact that the work is, if loosely, still inspired and based by a XIII Century poem, Wolfram von Eschenbach's "Parzival" on the Arthurian knight of the same name and his quest for the Holy Grail and on "Perceval, the Story of the Grail" by Chrétien de Troyes, add to it, and I strongly believe need to be totally taken into full consideration. Just as The Nutcracker...if Nuremberg is the place, and certain characters are precisely named by the creators of the work-(Prince Coqueluche, for instance...)-WHY then are they being changed, or simply erased...?

I'm a traditionalist, I confess.

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