On the Royal Opera’s production of Parsifal

Yesterday was my first visit to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and it was definitely one I won’t forget.

It was also my first Wagner opera, an important event in one’s life I think.

The music was absolutely incredible. It was a real honour to see Antonio Pappano live – he is both a genius conductor and a fantastic music director. If anyone should be pointed out as the star of the show, without a doubt, it should be him.

Before going I was warned that Parsifal can ‘put me off opera for life’. Luckily it didn’t but it was not an easy relaxing experience. The story is really complicated, full of religious symbols and metaphors. From what I understand the hero of the story is Parsifal, who doesn’t succumb to Kundry’s seductions and remains pure and innocent to heal the king with the Spear (a sacred relic that he then returns to the Holy Grail community). There is ‘redemption to the redeemer.’ Wagner explores a lot of deep concepts and questions humanity has always asked and answers them with compassion – a very good message indeed.

This was Wagner’s last opera and it was full of suffering, guilt, pain and regret. Last week I saw Verdi’s last opera – Falstaff and it was a complete opposite. The clear message was that life is to be enjoyed in all its forms, with laughter, food, sex and silliness. Wagner, in the end presented life as torturous: ‘death, to die, is the only mercy.’ Also sex is very bad according to this opera – it brings all sorts of demons, torment and unhappiness. Interestingly, Falstaff also concluded that everyone in the world is a fool but it’s ok as long as he who laughs, laughs last. Parsifal, as the main hero was also a ‘pure fool’ and he saves the day. I would rather be Verdi’s fool than Wagner’s – it seems a lot more fun. Maybe in 5 years time when I am 30, I will go see Parsifal again and get it a lot more but not for now, dear reader, I am sorry to admit that I enjoy my flaws as a human being and am not ready for the quest for redemption. Yet.

I very much enjoyed the opera though – the actors were absolutely amazing. To sing such complicated arias for nearly 6 hours must require Olympic-level fitness and talent. The whole cast was flawless and it’s difficult to pick anyone out. Since it was an extremely male-dominated opera, I guess I will mention Angela Denoke, who was stunning as Kundry and I would love to see whatever she does in the future.

The production was very interesting. Everyone was in modern dress. So the knights of the Grail all wore the same grey suits. Strangely it worked and provided a more effective image of a secretive sacred order than perhaps if they were in fancy dress. The set was incredibly simplistic, even futuristic. I think this added to the idea of the timelessness of the message and its applicability in any setting. The surprise of the production was that Grail was indeed Christ himself and when he appeared as a young, weak, mostly naked boy – it was a powerful, if distressing, image indeed.

Overall, I would give the production 5 stars and applaud its huge success. It’s my problem that I don’t quite get Wagner yet but to see so many talented people presenting such a beautiful opera in a beautiful building was a real privilege.


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