The reader may be forgiven for thinking this is a photo of a meeting of Mormon missionaries taken during our recent trip to Utah. No, what you are seeing is a scene from Act I of Parsifal at The Metropolitan Opera; depicted are the Knights of the Holy Grail. The Met Orchestra performed their usual magic under the magic wand of Israeli conductor Asher Fisch. The roles were wisely cast; tenor Jonas Kaufmann's dusky tenor and lithely youthful body filled the role of Parsifal the benighted swan-slayer to the perfection promised by his earlier appearance as Siegmund at the Met; Bass René Pape was a very human Gurnemanz, coloring his voice from porter to stout as called for by the text, no less wonderful than in his Met appearance as Boris; Baritone Peter Mattei suffered piteously and convincingly as Amfortas such that we breathed a sigh of relief when he recovered in the final scene; Bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin was just as evil and repulsive as one would want Klingsor to be; Kundry was finely sung and acted by Michaela Martens, replacing an indisposed Katarina Dalayman.
With all that going for it, we found François Girard's production, admired by some and tolerated by others, unsatisfying and nonspiritual. Whatever he intended with his "concept" we experienced the spirituality only in Wagner's passionate music and inventive orchestration. We had to close our eyes against the Mormon missionaries, the parched earth, the fissure, the weird anti-seductive hand-jive of the Flower Maidens in Act II, the watery stage blood through which the singers had to wade. We had to close our eyes and listen to the way Wagner could take a theme and turn it upside-down and inside-out and weave it throughout the orchestral sections so that it just washed over us.
So we have no love for Set Designer Michael Levine's scorched earth, nor any for Costume Designer Thibault Vancraenenbroeck's contemporary duds, nor any for Choreographer Carolyn Choa with her herky-jerky Flower Maidens. Lighting by David Finn never seemed to match the time of day mentioned in the libretto. Video Designer Peter Flaherty, however, mounted some lovely projections that slightly overcame the drab sets.
That just means more love left over for the stellar cast and orchestra!
The two 40-minute intermissions gave us plenty of time to think about the recurrent themes in Wagner's operas--the orphaned unenlightened youth who goes on a quest, the power-hungry monster, the woman who sleeps for a long long time, the struggle between good and evil, the sacrifice of a body part (best not to ask), the severe punishment for the sin of sexual desire, women who tease, the wanderer who belongs nowhere, the swan, redemption through sacrifice, and so on. One could have a field day, or write a book, about all these symbols. But...let us consider this. Everyone brings their own set of meanings to symbols which are therefore not universal. To Westerners, black symbolizes death; in the East it is white; and in New York it is just sophistication! So...you may experience the Parsifal legend as spiritual or you may experience it as pseudo-religious claptrap. Just enjoy the music!
(c) meche kroop