Wednesday, June 29, 2011


"Have I just dreamed all this" wonders the fool in Act 2 of Parsifal. I know how he feels. Whisked out of Zurich by train early the next morning into a Paris crippled by 37 degree heat, flown through the night into the next day, I'm now on the other side of the world perched high above Tokyo (also melting and with powers restrictions - business required to reduce consumption by 20%, households by 15%).

Parsifal, Zurich, June 26, tram 4 through the hot afternoon for a 5 o'clock curtain, row 11 stalls, which might sound close to the front but is nearly the back in the lovely little theatre, a production by Claus Guth, and someone who can put the helden back into tenor.

I'm pinching myself ...

There's this thing with Parsifal, the thing that it's his last work, it holds the key, you get it or you don't, it is revelatory when you are ready to receive its message, and if you don't you're a fool, innocent be damned. It's easy - sacrifice, salvation, denial, institution, brotherhood, compassion, innocence, sin, guilt, reincarnation, self-gratification, denial, christ, religion, jews, buddhism, sex, renunciation, love, joining, healing, body, mind, saviour, journey, create, destroy, spear, blood, chalice, death, rebirth, ritual, communion - for starters. It's like searching for the string theory for everything, except whenever I found a bit of a string, and tried to follow it, it lead to ... another string. Frankly, I was starting to wonder if Mr Wagner was none to able to unravel it himself (unlike the Ring, where his clear message is one of the greatest), and so I'm thankful to Mr Guth, profoundly thankful, for some insights beyond the obvious. "Oh, he's good" said someone in Sydney before I left when I mentioned the name. Good! - that's an understatement.

It is a beautiful production (Christian Schmidt, frequent collaborator with Guth) to look at - a two level revolve of faded glory, a decaying villa, upstairs and downstairs, sometimes one room, then two or part thereof, sometimes the garden, and a staircase with all its implications - up and down, above and below, dominance and submission, ascent descent and all the metaphors, crowding and clusters, watchers and watched, instability and insecurity. The lighting is wonderful, highlighting the beyond as much as the present, the other room, through the many doors, passages, to the other place and time, where we've been, where we're going. There is an inevitability in the changes, the relentless movement, the journey, infused with a pervading sense of doom. You are gripped and carried along, unable to get off.

Breadth and breath are the call. The opening prelude was very slow, with the silences between the expanding motif taking us beyond time and place so long as to risk disconnection, nearly. It was opening night and if trying it on was the order, so be it. The general sound of the theatre was loud and, surprisingly, tending to dry (very clean). The brass especially sounded good, thankfully. And Daniele Gatti played it loud, while all the time considerate of his singers, as formidable a team as ever. In the most thrilling moment of the night, as Parsifal two thirds way up the stairs and pinned to the back wall by transcendent light, triumphs over Klingsor above, Gatti let all stops out. Stepping up to the redeemer's mark, Stuart Skelton in radiant voice, poured forth such that if I die not hearing anything like that again, I'm happy, the little theatre full to overflowing with Wagner at its very best.

It is between Wars (are we always between wars?). Two production points, the beginning and the end, will give enough to join the dots. Spoiler warning. Towards to end of the prelude the curtain rises on a two level set. Above - the spear and grail each in its own museum-style show case, trophies. Below - Titurel and two sons, brothers, twins, the other side of the self, one about to be favoured (Amfortas) the other rejected (Klingsor). The journey of separateness had begun. In a stunning inversion, yes, a reconciliation was to come at the closing moments, but hardly that expected. Parsifal, having claimed the crown, the kingship, the power, is immediately corrupted as power can and must.

The assumption of superiority, difference, is the antithesis of the belief in equality and oneness. As the once innocent healer stands on high morphing into a grotesque military despot with obvious references, below the two separated souls reach out to each other in understanding. One cycle is closing, another beginning. You don't need me to tell you what's happening musically - its just the the 'holy spirit doves' are not where you expect. All healing, regardless of external forces, guides, redeemers, is from within and not without. Holiness lies in not what you do but why you do it.

Matti Salminen was the wise frustrated chaplain Germemanz in the sanitarium for the physically and mentally wounded. He has lost a good deal of weight, and I thought maybe some resonance in the voice (though there were plenty of reserves) but it could have been the acoustics. Thomas Hampson's incredibly sympathetic Amfortas was everything I had hoped, a lesson in perseverance through agony to ultimate resolution. And well matched was his nearly identical darker voiced twin, Egils Silins' Klingsor.

Yvonne Naef's wild Kundry (if an example of alter egos as a principle was needed to justify what Guth was getting at then Kundry is it) had more than enough fire and Lauren Bacall sensuality to undo just about anyone, except you know who, and a few wild notes to boot.

Then there was Stuart Skelton, of seeming unlimited voice, his handsome masculine tenor perhaps less brassy but now with even more lovely colours, tender and warm, strong and radiant, he's got it all. Go Stuart.

I forgot to remind myself what a great choral work this is, and needless to say, the chorus was excellent, with female voices from high in the upper circle risking cliche but achieving a wonderful surround sound angelic effect.

Gatti was heavily booed by some somewhere, countered by others and none less than Thomas Hampson during curtain calls. There was some lesser boos for the production team, but generally enormous and enthusiastic support.

Since I started this, a few days have slipped by, and I've been locked out of blogger. Luckily. From Opera Zurich this has now been uploaded. Much has been written and said in German and Swiss about this fabulous production. I'm afraid I know little more than 'two beers' (or not two beers). Over to the ones who really know - I feel terribly inadequate in the face of such people and watching this now I just wish I could get back on the plane and fly back.

Addit: Here's a review in English (Financial Times).


Sarah said...


wanderer said...

Hello hello. Another serious case of once is not (nearly) enough - seems to go with the tenor. I'm hoping there might be some permanent record - I'd drink to that.