Parsifal, Royal Opera House, London

  • @seckerson

The wigwam is still there; so is the Damien Hirst shark and some of the worst costuming outside of bring-and-buy. Only one of the above stars is for Klaus Michael Grber's dismal 2001 staging of Wagner's final opera. Frankly, it should never have been revived. Not even for Bernard Haitink, returning to the House for the first time since he stepped down as music director in 2002. His Wagnerian credentials have always been impressive; wisdom and patience are great attributes in this work, especially as the Motif of the Sacrament swells, solo trumpet piercing the string arpeggiations like the point of the holy Spear.

But then Parsifal kills the swan and we are expected to suspend disbelief in not imagining that it is a pair of Kundry's bloomers blown off a nearby washing line. Grber's staging ("revived" by Ellen Hammer) is so static, it's hard to believe that a director was ever present at rehearsals. Someone should have told both of them the difference between simple and prosaic. After a feeble transformation scene, the single most powerful image in the show a re-imagining of the Last Supper stretching the width of the stage is so far downstage that Amfortas and his knights are marooned behind it for the duration. Falk Struckmann projects Amfortas's torment with searing immediacy, but the staging cramps his style.

This is a show in which there is no visual equivalent to the atmosphere and musical awe that Wagner delivers in every bar. The lighting designers must have been otherwise engaged on the days that their work was scheduled. Suffice it to say, poor Willard White has his work cut out mustering authority in a bad dressing gown and handfuls of cheap bling, while Christopher Ventris's one-dimensional Parsifal wears his ER scrubs in full expectancy of the next trauma. Which is never long in coming.

I mentioned Haitink's patience in this score. It, too, errs on the side of static now and then especially at the start of Kundry's long Act II narration. Once Petra Lang recovers from an entrance that would have shamed Shirley Bassey, she moves in for the kill with a thrilling range of vocal colours. But like everyone else in this sorry enterprise, she is abandoned to operatic clich. John Tomlinson's beautifully enunciated Gurnemanz sounds a little frayed in some of his benevolent legatos, but his storytelling supplies the animation this staging so woefully lacks. He and Haitink should have been reunited in happier circumstances.

In rep to 21 December (020-7304 4000)