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Met's "Parsival"


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#16 sandik

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 01:08 PM

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.

#17 SandyMcKean

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 02:01 PM

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.

#18 dirac

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 02:38 PM

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.....

#19 Birdsall

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 08:28 PM

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.

#20 SandyMcKean

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 08:57 PM

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 Posted Image), 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.

#21 Birdsall

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Posted 05 March 2013 - 07:38 AM

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

#22 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 05:53 AM

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.

#23 Birdsall

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 06:29 AM


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!

#24 SandyMcKean

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 07:12 AM

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 Posted Image.

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.

#25 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 08:08 AM

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.

#26 SandyMcKean

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 09:17 AM

the work is, if loosely, still inspired and based by a XIII Century poem, Wolfram von Eschenbach's "Parzival"


I was aware of this connection, but I know nothing of the von Eschenbach poem. Can you give me some general idea of what the costumes, sets, and overall feel of a production might look like if the director/designer wanted to be true to that poem?? Are you aware of any production that attempted this?

#27 Birdsall

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 10:05 AM

I think the Met's previous Parsifal probably came as close as you can to setting it in the same time as the original story Parzival. The costumes and sets were absolutely gorgeous. Some people, however, found it boring. I loved that production. It might still be available on dvd. Not sure. It might be out of print.

But the actual von Eschenbach poem/story is very different than Wagner's. It has a lot more tests he has to go through and the story even branches off and follows stories of others as well. It is very, very different, but I suppose a general outline is similar. In fact, to explain some differences, there is one part where he has to get on top of a rolling bed that rolls around and bangs into walls while arrows and other things rain down on him, I believe. He is supposed to stay on the bed and not fall off. I forget the exact details. It has been so long. Basically, it is almost like a Science Fiction/Fantasy story. Kundry is nothing like in the opera. I think the opera sort of combines characters into her. My memory of Kundry in the story is that there is no way he would kiss Kundry! LOL I would have to reread. Parzival is definitely worth reading, if you are looking for something to read.

Wagner kept the general concept and added a whole lot more spirituality (or our idea of spirituality opposed to the Middle Ages), in my opinion (he even added Buddhism).

So I actually think there is an argument for placing it in the middle ages but also a good argument for giving it an "anytime" setting as well.

Believe it or not, La Boheme can actually work when updated. I think the Australian Opera did a decent updating of it that was charming years ago. It was played on PBS. The thing about La Boheme is that in that particular case the traditional dress does make them look more like our grandparents and we forget these people are artists and bohemian artists who are barely surviving. They are similar to beatniks in the 1960s. They are having sex outside of marriage which was probably not the norm back in the day of the setting. We forget to look at these characters as total artist types who are really living an avant garde (non-mainstream) lifestyle. These same characters today would have tattoos all over their bodies and huge ear piercings. Remember also that Rodolfo and Mimi decide to stay together until spring (keep warm in the winter), so there is a certain amount of practicality in these people's concept of love. I think over time audiences have over-romanticized La Boheme and forgotten that these people are sort of edgy people. They are not upstanding middle class people. They are more fringe types. It is still very beautiful (especially Puccini's music). But this is actually an opera that I think makes more sense to people today if done in an updated thing.

I hate the updated operas where they are talking about their sword and pull out a gun instead. LOL I hate when it makes no sense. But if an updating makes sense and gives me something to really think about, then I accept it.

#28 Jayne

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 11:28 AM

HuffPo article by someone who doesn't like the METLive intermission interviews (but I love them!)

#29 abatt

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 12:10 PM

He could have left the movie theater during the intermission. Nobody forced him to sit there and listen to the interviews.

#30 Helene

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Posted 06 March 2013 - 12:39 PM

The intermission interviews start within 20 seconds of the curtain. Unless the author was sitting on an aisle by the door and got up and ran into the lobby, it would have been impossible to miss them. Unless the author was willing to go in and out during the set changes between acts when there is no intermission, it's impossible to miss the banging and chatter. Typically, that's not possible. In my theater, I counted four people under the age of 50, and between the walkers, the canes, and elderly people trying to get down the aisles that don't have handrails, it typically takes at least five minutes of the intermission-intermission to get to the exit, by which time, I've already heard the blood-spattered Peter Mattei being interviewed happily. (I know he's being lauded for his physical performance, but I felt it for the two guys on whom he leaned and had to hold various contortions while supporting Mattei's body weight.)

I know it's impractical for them to do the interviews, except the conductor, at the end of the long intermission, but I wish they could: 25 minutes later, I've always found the conductor interview a good way to transition back into the opera, after having braved the rest room line, the popcorn and poutine smells, and, in one theater south of Seattle, the blaring rock music and video game sounds. I also wish they would put the sound on mute while the stage-hands work. Then it would be possible to sit with closed eyes to think about what happened and to ignore the set change.

Sirius/XM Met broadcasts have related issues for the archived versions: the don't wait more than a few seconds after one act before they edit in Juntwaite's pre-recorded synopses for the next -- there's no breather between acts -- and in live performances, she and her partner, usually William Berger, don't wait more than a few seconds before exclaiming how wonderful it was, which is longer than I have to rush out of the room to avoid them or to find the remote and the "mute" button. At least the intermission interviews are normally about upcoming operas and performers and are far more in-depth than the two-five-minute variety for the HD broadcasts.


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