Wagner Parsifal, English National Opera

4.00

One of the great operatic images of the last two decades or so comes in the final act of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s 1999 staging of Wagner’s last opera Parsifal.

It is journey’s end for the fool made wise through pity and at the end of the line – quite literally here a disused railway track – the wandering hero returns, a black Samurai knight, silent, stealthy, mystical. The ritual in Lehnhoff’s staging is deliberately stark and alien, recognisably Christian symbols are avoided, as is beauty. His staging is the grey of guilt and despair, sin and sorrow. The Sanctuary of the Holy Grail is crumbling, its occupants dusty and dispirited. Some might call this the Protestant Parsifal. But even as string basses send a shiver of disquiet through the lofty prelude a more fundamental philosophy stirs: sin and redemption are universal.

And so the Temple of the Grail is a concrete fortress whose outer wall has been shattered by something akin to a crashing meteor. Is this the rock of ages, a Stanley Kubrick-like symbol of timelessness? When Gurnemanz, veteran of the Grail, and the pure fool Parsifal slowly process “though time and space” to the inner temple the rock tumbles with them and the upward sweep of Raimund Bauer’s set now offers the disorientating visual illusion of an aerial perspective. But grand ideas and their execution are not always compatible in the theatre and visible wires quickly remind us that technical complexity can be hazardous. The unveiling of the Grail – a creaky sliding panel opening awkwardly to a light that should blind us but does not – is quite the opposite: a feeble solution. Both ideas paradoxically show their age. Others – like the crash landing of Kundry as a fallen angel and the destruction of Klingsor’s domain in a shower of (nuclear?) ash – are simpler and more memorable.

But as with all special operatic experiences, the show is only as good as the people who inhabit it and as the first words of text cut through the silence of the auditorium we hear the stentorian voice of authority that could only belong to one man. Where would the history of Wagner performance be without John Tomlinson? His Gurnemanz carries with it the weight of experience and tradition that this chronicler of Grail history must naturally have in abundance. We hang on his every word and gesture. Who else could invest the line “It is forbidden” with such finality?

In marked contrast, the Kundry of Jane Dutton has us glazing over during her lengthy act two narration. One begins to wonder if the flat toneless delivery is deliberate? But thereafter she rises to the fireworks surrounding the problematic “kiss” and the revelation of how she mocked Christ on the Cross culminates in a no holds barred vocal plunge that is the ultimate fall from grace in music. Stuart Skelton’s Parsifal comes into dramatic focus here, too, his awakening to the purpose of his mission big in sound and conviction.

But his best is still to come. Everyone’s is. All games are raised in the final act. After the somewhat sexless flouncings of the stamen waving flower maidens in act two, act three is properly glorious. Mark Wigglesworth and the ENO orchestra, magnificent throughout the evening, now achieve a truly rarefied beauty, strings whispering a barely audible benediction before the solo oboe announces the new dawn.

Lehnhoff’s blocking of the final scene is tremendous and the image of Skelton’s Parsifal finally granting peace to Iain Paterson’s tortured Amfortas and gently closing his eyes is as simple and unforgettable here as Lehnhoff’s allusion to Michelangelo’s Pietà at the close of act one. Compassion is universal, too.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk