Readers of this blog will know that the broad condemnations of Peter Gelb’s leadership at the Metropolitan Opera seem to me like warnings of falling asteroids — they simply don’t conform to my personal experience. And the just-closed run of Parsifal is in keeping with this record. It was impeccably cast, ravishingly played, movingly conducted, thrillingly designed, and interpreted for the stage with utter sympathy for the content of the work and a passionate invitation to think newer, deeper and cleaner about what this masterpiece says.
Jonas Kaufman’s Parsifal and Rene Pape’s Gurnemanz were simply perfect; there’s no discussing them. Katarina Dalayman bit into this difficult role and didn’t let go. And Peter Mattei gave a role-première as Amfortas that simply redefined what one might evermore expect. It goes without saying that the character is in pain. But Mattei’s every breath, every move, every condemnation and every plea was suffused with pain and forced by anguish both physical and moral. One never before sensed the depth of despair in which the king is forced to execute his duties, and the opportunities in the score for the very extremes of human suffering.
Girard’s reading of the action of the play was convincing and nearly flawless. Typical of the insight he brought to bear was the curtain of Act I. Rather than Gurnemanz’s hearing the voice singing about the “Reine Tor,” it was Parsifal who was left onstage. And it was he who took it seriously, who questioned it and who was prepared to pursue it. Thus the great series of self-discoveries upon Kundry’s kiss in Act II were made all the more pointed because he realized who he was, not just what he was feeling.
Michael Levine’s Act II set also went right to the point of the work. At the and of Act I, the ground opened and a crevice like a wound was displayed, emitting blood-red light. This abyss was then the setting for Act II — either a steeply cliffed mountain pass or a wound or, as my companion suggested, the female generative organ. Blood not only surrounded the set — it was the set, with the actors splashing in it. Thus when Parsifal rejected Kundry’s kiss, the necessary event was portrayed right there in front of us: Through an event of “with-feel,” Parsifal didn’t just pity Amfortas for his wound — he felt the wound. Indeed, he was in the wound itself, and recognized the hurt and pain of the entire human condition by virtue of being surrounded by it.
So many riches were in this production that the musical ecstasy merged with the theatrical splendor, creating an even more moving and intelligent experience than the great production recently offered by Stefan Herheim in Bayreuth. It is a great work, and in the hands of these artists its greatness becomes palpable.