Parsifal: Opera review

3.00

Royal Opera House, London

For an opera conceived as a paean to reconciliation, Wagner’s “Parsifal” has sown much discord. Some people have read anti-Semitism into Klingsor, its evil genius whose self-hatred leads him to castrate himself; many regard the work as a Christian tract, though it’s as much a celebration of pre-Christian paganism. But its deep import is Freudian.

The Holy Grail with Christ’s blood and the Spear which pierced his side are the relics on which the action turns, but the drama concerns Amfortas’s need for redemption, symbolised by the unhealable wound in his side.

To atone for his seduction by the ‘wild woman’ Kundry he must be saved by young Parsifal, a holy fool. Wagner wrestled for thirty years with the idea for this opera, which eventually proved to be all about sex and the importance of renouncing it. This may be an old man’s take on the pleasures of life, but no music ever dripped more sensuality than the accompaniment to the Flower Maidens’ attempts to seduce Parsifal in Klingsor’s domain.

Stephen Langridge’s production lays its cards on the table with the rise of its blood-red curtain: as emphasised by Alison Chitty’s designs, this will be a very medical interpretation. A gauze cube sits centre-stage containing an ailing Amfortas (Gerald Finley) lying in a hospital bed on a drip with orderlies dozing round him. Rene Pape then makes his appearance as the soothsayer Guernemanz, to explain how Amfortas got into this fix: with Antonio Pappano generating powerful momentum in the pit, it only needs a few lines from this great German bass to speed the drama effortlessly on its course.

The baronial halls, mountains, and forests which Wagner stipulated are here replaced by an unchanging grey space surrounded by denuded tree-trunks and peopled by grey-suited ‘knights’ who look like members of a Seventies TM cult. And onto this symbolism-laden story Langridge has grafted symbolism of his own devising. The ever-present cube, which often unhelpfully obscures the action, assumes a Tardis-like function, giving lurid flashbacks to Amfortas’s original sin and Klingsor’s bloody self-castration. And when the Eucharist is celebrated, the cube disgorges a Christ-boy whom Amfortas wounds, after which his knights (who have suddenly become a terrorist cell) stab themselves with syringes in an absurdly choreographed group gesture. The Grail’s ultimate revelation is that the boy has become the adult Christ… enough already.

Wagner’s mighty visions - and his vast circles of terraced sound - go for nothing under this director, whose literalism sabotages key moments including the climactic aria from Finley’s finely-sung Amfortas, and the scene with the Flower-Maidens, who attack Simon O’Neill’s Parsifal like an unruly bunch of hookers. And O’Neill himself is problematic: he may have a sweetly focused tone, but nature, to be honest, never intended him as a heroic-romantic lead.

That this is still a triumphant evening is thanks to Angela Denoke’s brilliantly-acted and gorgeously-sung Kundry, to the burnished beauty of Pape’s singing, to the superb chorus, and to Pappano’s players who do full justice to the magnificence of the score.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones