OPERA: Simon Rattle conducts Wagner's Parsifal, Netherlands Opera, Amsterdam

Seen so soon after the jejune Covent Garden Ring, this revival of the Amsterdam Parsifal (production, Klaus Michael Gruber; designs, Gilles Aillaud) stands out for its mature poetic intelligence. Scarcely showy, it bears signs of a well-subsidised house - sophisticated technology, no cheese-paring, and occasional magnificent visual generosity: in Act 1, the Grail Sanctuary with its Last Supper table, a Leonardo extending all the way across the vast stage front, behind which sits a single row of knights with empty places left for the sick king (Wolfgang Schone, tragically powerful) and his henchman Gurnemanz (Robert Lloyd, noble voiced, rhythmically cavalier).

The triumph of Act 2 is the garden itself, a 3D transcription of Klee and Gaud, hung with androgynous fruit and flowers, among them a gently luminous yellow fish. The slow motion of Parsifal towards Kundry, then, after their kiss, their separation to positions so far apart that the eye cannot contain both, reaches complex ends from simplest means. Violeta Urmana was glorious: Poul Elming looks the part but hasn't in this large house the vocal size to yield the role's full demands.

In Act 3 the pastoral scene failed to evoke deep freeze and spring thaw. But the knights' second entry, each man concealed behind empty armour, made the most terrifying moment I've yet encountered in the theatre. Crowned, however, by the final resolution into timeless radiance, self-knowledge achieved, transcendence inaugurated.

Such excellence requires money. But money cannot guarantee a successful acoustic, whose absence was clear from the start. Wringing the sonorous glory of this score from such an untingling space would be superhuman. Sir Simon Rattle comes new to Parsifal after half a lifetime of orchestral experience learnt mainly from the luxurious textures and emotional turmoil of late romanticism and early modernism which evolved above all from Wagner's opus ultimum. He is specially equipped to read back into it what it gave birth to. In doing so, he reveals accidental affinity with the post-Boulez approach that aims to clean out the accumulated Germanic mud. Which, in effect, reduces the ceremonial and mystical aspects. In the outer acts, the depths below the earth and the radiance of the heavens were surprisingly withheld. Nor was this wholly the fault of the unresponsive acoustic, for, in Act 1, after a relatively lacklustre Transformation and Eucharist, the sound truly became, in Debussy's famous phrase, "illumined from behind" (though the distant choral melodies were sadly inaudible); and in Act 3 the unfolding warmth of the Good Friday sequence swept all before it. Yet, while overall momentum was often masterly, some stretches, and important individual moments, lay a little inert.

By contrast, the middle act was altogether sensually alive: Klingsor's glinting evil, the languorous then sparkling seductions of the girls, then Kundry's deeper insinuations, were intense and passionate; as the contretemps mounted to violent confrontation, Rattle's mixture of coherence and disintegration was the most convincing I've ever heard.

The work's human aspects, then, are realised by Rattle with extraordinary musical fullness, while the ritual aspects are relatively pale. Their fusion has to overcome our epoch's inhibition with the great bastions of Victorian Gothic, especially when charged with such a potent exploration of the darkest places of the human body and soul. To achieve this fusion will surely be the work (among much else) of half a lifetime - Rattle's second half. There is no conductor now active of whom one can be more certain that he will eventually get the All of Parsifal into the One.

To 21 Feb, Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam. Booking: 00 31 20 6 255 455

Robin Holloway

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

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


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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    '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
    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