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Your reaction: Parsifal

What did you think of Stephen Langridge's production of Wagner's final masterpiece?

By Ellen West (Head of Online Content)

1 December 2013 at 8.50pm | 27 Comments

Press reviews:
Financial Times ★★★★★
The Guardian ★★★★
Evening Standard ★★★★
The Telegraph ★★★★
The Independent ★★★
Arts Desk ★★

What did you think of Parsifal?

Parsifal runs from 30 November to 18 December 2013. Limited tickets are still available. It will be screened live in cinemas on 18 December. Find out full details of a screening near you.

Parsifal is staged with generous philanthropic support from The Metherell Family, Roland & Sophie Rudd, Dr and Mrs Michael West, Marina Hobson MBE, Ian and Helen Andrews, Peter and Fiona Espenhahn, Annie Frankel, Malcolm Herring, Dr L Mikheev and N Mikheev, Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson, The Wagner Circle and The Parsifal Production Syndicate and generously supported in memory of Simon Tullah.

By Ellen West (Head of Online Content)

1 December 2013 at 8.50pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Stephen Langridge, comments, Gerald Finley, Parsifal, Production, René Pape, review, your reaction

This article has 27 comments

  1. John M responded on 2 December 2013 at 10:37am Reply

    Musically there was much to enjoy. Mr Pappano elicited wonderful playing and sounds from the orchestra and the singing was throughout excellent. Gerald Finley's anguished intensity was most moving, Pape was a marvel. Carping a little, perhaps Denoke needed a more voluptuous sound for Act 2 and for Parsifal it is a fine line between simple and blank. The production? Well, mostly inoffensive (child abuse(?) apart) but it added nothing to our understanding of the work - no insights, a number of pretensions. The set was poor and did not support the wonderful music making going on. Some of the stage exits were amateur in concept. As for Amfortas and Kundry wandering off into the woods at the end ... I assume the director had not read the plot, let alone the text. Not to allow Kundry's death at the end is to miss a major theme. Once again, we should not need a set of pass-notes to understand a director's intentions. As so often in recent seasons, the ROH offers us once again great music and singing with a mediocre production. So, Vepres gone, Parsifal gone. What is the next new opera production? Ah yes, Mr Holten's Don Giovanni ....

  2. Andrew Morgan responded on 2 December 2013 at 11:57pm Reply

    Musically, this was a magnificent evening. Pappano and the ROH Orchestra were glorious. The singers were very fine though ideally Angela Denoke would have had a more powerful top to her voice. I would have preferred Gerald Finley to have expressed more angst in his act 1 grail scene; he was more moving in act 3.
    Unfortunately, I found the production the ugliest thing I've ever seen on the opera stage; not just ugly but dull. It started out so promising, exploring our desperate hope in the magical power of medicine to relieve or suffering but then lost direction.

  3. Nothing like gratuitous directorial interference to get the attention it doesn't deserve. Sadly a contemporary malaise - the director who places his worth above that of the creator. No matter, something survives - always does.

  4. stephen ratcliffe responded on 3 December 2013 at 1:47pm Reply

    Wonderful singing and the orchestra were superb but the production was so BORING! My fourth ever Parsifal and the only time I have almost the lost the will to live.

  5. Peter Hadden responded on 3 December 2013 at 4:20pm Reply

    Orchestra and Pappano truly superb.
    Rene Pape an outstanding Gurnamanz.
    Denoke may not be Meier but had a real go at Kundry as did Gerald Finley as Amfortas.
    Weak link at this level was O' Neill.
    Musically a wonderful evening.
    Real shame about the Production.

  6. Sandra Bishop responded on 3 December 2013 at 4:29pm Reply

    Musically it was brilliant, in particular Angela Denoke and Rene Pape, but I absolutely hated the production. I have never yet seen a production of this opera that I liked and was hoping for a change this time but no. I started to feel very tired in the first act and I think this was due to the dreary monochrome setting which had no atmosphere whatsoever. The poor little boy who I assume was meant to represent the grail looked as if he wished he wasn't there. I felt the staging really only worked in Act 2 but I possibly that had more to do with the singing of Angela Denoke in Kundry's scene with Parsifal - she had me absolutely riveted to the extent I almost forgot Parsifal was on the stage. And why did Parsifal just walk off the stage at the end as if he was saying, OK, that's it, I've cured Amfortas, now get on with it? I will not be seeing this production again.

  7. Michael de Navarro responded on 3 December 2013 at 5:19pm Reply

    Musically this perforamcne was as good as or better than any I have heard (and I go back to Kempe and Goodall with Vickers), Beautifully paced with wonderful and clear orchestral playing and choral singing. Pape and Finley were unbeatable (as I expected). In a perfect world one could ask for a little more colour and power vocally for Kundry but would one then get such a compellingly acted performance as Denoke gave us? For me the revelation was Simon O'Neill who acted (which from previous encounters I did not expect) and sang magnificently; he was tireless and his soft high notes in the last act were in the Vickers/Kaufmann class.

    I'm still thinking about the production. It was very effective as a piece of theatre, even the mutilation of the boy "grail"at the end of Act 1. While Wagner's Christian add-on to a pagan story is probably unstageable today in the way he intended (communion rites etc), possibly for Christians and certainly for everyone else, I am not convinced that a staging based, so far as I could understand the end, on the idea that Parsifal's mission is to demonstrate that the grail (and Christianity) is an empty illusion and that cults are a bad thing works any better The trouble is trying to fit this not unattractive to a modern audience idea in with the music in particular in the hall of the grail in Act 1, which like it or not, is clearly for better or worse magificently faith affirming. There were similar problems with the interesting Lehnoff version at ENO which also had Amfortas and Kundry walking off hand in hand. For me the Met version (which I only saw on screen) with its reconciliation of the whole being (male and female) worked as well as any and did not run counter to the music, which at heart I am afraid this interesting and challenging production did - but it did at least make one think. Of course that leaves the perhaps unanswerable question - how do you stage this musically magnificent but intellectually difficult piece today?

  8. Francesca Fremantle responded on 3 December 2013 at 8:43pm Reply

    Parsifal is essentially unstageable, being a profoundly sacred mystery, and I simply cannot imagine what my ideal production would be, but this one comes closer than anything so far. I was surprised, shocked, deeply moved, captivated and at the end completely satisfied by it. Stephen Langridge has thought very deeply about both the text and the music, and come up with some wonderful insights and ways of expressing them, centering on the reality of suffering and the different human responses to it. The entire cast is magnificent, both as singers and actors, and as for the orchestra and Tony Pappano, there are no words to describe the beauty of the music they produced. Thank you all. How lucky we are!

  9. Derek Blyth responded on 5 December 2013 at 10:29pm Reply

    I left at the end of the first act. Although musically superb, the production was, at best, drab and, at its worst, very offensive. Child mutilation has no place in any opera and no place in Christianity. The consecration of terrorists has no place in Parsifal.

  10. Richard Davey responded on 6 December 2013 at 2:49pm Reply

    I went last night and must have seen a different production. This was an amazing, visually dramatic production using light and visual imagery in the most marvellous way to underpin the score. This was also one of the most religious and theologically informed productions I could imagine. The moment when the young boy/christ figure was carried at the end of the first act in the position of the Pieta, his blood and body spent in the act of giving life to the grail community, then the moment when Parsifal sat next to him and the boy turned to face him, at the point in the score when the innocent fool acquires 'wisdom' and understanding. The transformation of the eucharist comes from an encounter with Christ, the ‘son’ of God, whose pierced side releases the blood to fill the holy grail. Parsifal is enlightened by an encounter with the living Christ, not a metal cup. Then in the 3rd act, the image of Kundry as Mary Magadelene not only anointing Parisfal's feet but drying it with her hair, as depicted in so much art, and then the three trees on the ground, the three crosses, followed by the revealing of the grail, which becomes the empty tomb complete with the bed and empty sheets. This perfectly matched Wagner's vision which allows the transforming action of the grail liturgy to move from being for a 'small chosen people' to an act made 'once and for all' as it says in the eucharistic liturgy. The sepulchre has to be empty, because the the redeemers sacrifice has been given to all people. Then through the transformative act of love revealed in the Resurrection the ‘sinners’ Kundry and Amfortas themselves find love. Yes Kundry doesn’t physically die, but I think this made a far more powerful statement. Wow, what a night both musically and visually. As someone who celebrates the Eucharist every week, I have never seen a better, or more visually engaging interpretation of this sacrament. This was not a theologically empty, or ironic production, but densely rich and inspiring.

    • James Gordon responded on 6 December 2013 at 4:54pm

      I too saw the production last night, well worth 2 nights on the sleeper from/to Inverness and I'll make sure to catch it again in the cinema on the 18th. I didn't buy a programme, so don't know what was written about the production there, but I agree with pretty much all the last comment (Richard Davey) - no need to repeat. I will confine myself to a few of many points that impressed/challenged/provoked new thoughts and insights about a work whose riches are inexhaustible.
      The first act was disturbing, at times verging on the offensive. So it should be - the community depicted is profoundly, spiritually sick. Unless we see and hear this, there is no magic to the transformation of Act 3. The violent, blood-soaked actions are at odds with the transcendent music, but not with the blood-soaked text, and Wagner himself pioneered such disjunctions to make dramatic or psychological points (e.g. Mime's duplicity in Siegfried Act 1). Anyway, he didn't regard his own stage directions as sacrosanct - as he said after the first complete Ring cycles, "We will do it all differently next time."
      The shaven-headed Kundry of Act 1 perhaps recalled a Buddhist monk, the fiery locks of Act 2 were self-explanatory, the Act 3 Kundry was the repentant Magdalene. Angela Denoke was convincing in showing these to be 3 facets of one person, not 3 separate (re)incarnations. The deepest and the most coherent conception of this complex character that I have seen. Wagner's final stage direction for her is "Sie entseelt", not "Sie stirbt". Literally "She unsouls" - or perhaps "She is unsouled". Released, perhaps, by baptism, from her delusions of reincarnation. I know some will disagree, that's OK: this is art, not dogma (see the opening of Wagner's essay "Religion and Art").
      Usually, Parsifal's moment of enlightenment/conversion/call it what you will is his identification with Amfortas' agony (and thus with Christ's, wounded by the selfsame spear) at Kundry's kiss in Act 2. But this production is more subtle. Conversion is more often a process than a moment, and Parsifal's interaction with the "Grail"/boy in Act 1 marks the beginning of it. His embrace of Klingsor as he is wounded by the spear is its culmination. Love your enemy indeed. But even Christ's love cannot convert the unrepentant, so Klingsor falls to the ground and we don't see him again (even at curtain calls). Capping even that embrace is Simon O'Neill's playing half of Act 3 blindfolded. I wonder whether the symbolism might be heightened still further if he remained blind to the end (physically but not spiritually, the opposite of the spiritually myopic doctor-knight-priests of the Grail).
      Maybe I would prefer to see Kundry hand in hand with Parsifal at the conclusion (don't forget, we know what happens next: Lohengrin needs a mother!) but the staging works on its own terms. Not least with the arrival of the female chorus after the "Grail" has been opened to all. A subliminal message in favour of women priests? Nothing so stale: a true priesthood of all believers has no place for professional priests at all. Hence Parsifal walks away at the end, his job done.
      Nearly 6 hours in the auditorium? It didn't feel like it. Singing, acting and playing left very little to be desired individually, but it was the totality of the drama that held the attention at all levels and erased awareness of the passage of time - a Gesamtkunstwerk indeed. "Here time becomes space..."

  11. Reading Richard Davey's post was a light bulb moment for me. I was there last night as well and was enthralled by the music and singing, I loved every moment, especially Rene Pape's performance. But I found the production confusing. Brought up under pressure from intense Catholic dogma (which I rejected at an early age) I really should have recognised the Pieta, the three crosses and the meaning of the empty bed at the end. It all makes sense now. Even if these are beliefs that I don't share,
    I think that the general unawareness of Christian beliefs and symbolism has caused much of the negative response to the production. It is impossible to understand it unless you view it with this information in the forefront of your consciousness.

    • Carol Anderson responded on 27 January 2014 at 6:20pm

      Dear Mary Josefina, Just a jot to thank you for your insights . Last night in NYC I saw the HD broadcast of the ROH Parsifal. I was baffled about large tree trunks on the ground, the Pieta image escaped me Your comments now enrich my experience. Some were disturbed that Kundry walked way with Amfortas at the end. But the deeper meaning is realized-- they have been profoundly transformed, and released. This is similar to the Tarot " death" card that signifies radical transformation, not necessarily physical death. Immensely enjoy your website and London photos too.

  12. Roy Hiscock responded on 6 December 2013 at 10:49pm Reply

    I saw this on 2nd and 5th December. No question about the performance, which was never less than very good and for the most part excellent (at the risk of being boring, Pappano and the orchestra and Rene Pape were beyond praise)..
    I'm still not sure about the production (for each performance I had a restricted view seat). The ICU set reminded me of Hanslick's comment on the Bayreuth premiere - "..talk (of) searing pains, bleeding wounds, baths and medicaments (means) our sympathy is clinical-pathological rather than tragic" - this was rather emphasised; and I could not follow the point of the child abuse, SM, cannibalism (OK, the last is implicit in the Eucharist) of the "Grail". The swan was embarrassing. Act 2 and Act 3 sc 1 were fine, not sure about the last scene. However, it is one of the few recent productions at ROH where I have not wanted to boo the production team. Hanslick had a point (as usual, he rather twisted it): Amfortas' pain is physical as well as spiritual, there can be no permanent relief for the former without curing the latter, and that is only possible with the weapon that caused the wound. For the most part, then, a thoughtful, thought-provoking effort.

  13. John Goulden responded on 8 December 2013 at 3:11pm Reply

    This was musically a magnificent evening: Pape, Finlay, O’Neill and especially the orchestra. And the criticisms of Denoke’s occasionally strained singing overlook how difficult the line often is and how splendidly she acted the Act II confrontation with Parsifal.

    As for the staging, it was a coherent and thought-provoking attempt to illuminate an incoherent mystery. There were some banal elements (the cube flashbacks and the modish terrorists); Kundry doesn’t ‘unsoul’, she becomes lifeless and certainly shouldn’t slink away with Amfortas like a couple of OAP swingers. But the overall concept (the reform of a demoralised and perverted cult) was convincing. The message, as I saw it, was not that the grail is an empty illusion but that the Community isn’t limited to a male priesthood obsessed with an annual glimpse of a goblet: it embraces everyone and is available everywhere daily.
    The blessing of Kundry and the washing and healing of the blind Parsifal fitted perfectly with the ravishing Good Friday music. I missed some of the insights mentioned in the thoughtful reviews by Richard Davey and James Gordon above – especially the effect of the boy-grail on Parsifal’s enlightenment.

    This leads to a plea to the management. The programme contained some fascinating background. But could we ask that Directors be required to contribute an article on what they are trying to achieve and how? Stephen Langridge’s synopsis added little to the usual pre-opera summary But it would have been really helpful to have his thoughts on the grail/boy/adolescent, the non-death of Kundry, Parsifal’s low key departure at the end and how he sees the balance between Christian and non-Christian ideas in this wonderful but perplexing opera.

  14. John Rose responded on 11 December 2013 at 5:03pm Reply

    Re. the final paragraph of John Goulden's comment,I,too,would like to read more from the producers as to what they are trying to achieve. With this in mind,at the end of last season, I wrote to John Snelson who is the commissioning editor of the programme books. He replied to me very fully: the gist of which is that producers in general are reluctant to commit to paper their thoughts. Recent productions have been so opaque that it is hight time this matter was raised at a very senior management level. I do hope others will badger away for further enlightenment on this matter.(I haven't seen Parsifal yet: but many of the comments above seem to show a degree of understanding missing from some of the professional critics.). But more acountability / explanation from producers? Yes please!

  15. I was enjoying the production until the dazzling fluorescent light on the white raised oblong part of the set. It made me feel quite ill and I had to close my eyes much of the time . Then the appearance of the loin clothed boy, and I completely lost patience with the production. Stuck it out for act 2 which was mainly a screech fest for Denoke and O'Neill . White , Pape superb though, Finlay over parted and time for Bob Lloyd to bow out gracefully I fear. Left at second interval. Only the second time I've ever left an opera before the end. Am listening now on Radio 3
    , is a rather more enjoyable experience.

  16. A stellar cast on top form. Rene Pape as Gurnemanz - what could be better? The chorus took your breath away. The orchestral playing was superb, wonderfully balanced and paced. I should have gone home shattered, disturbed, shaken to the core. But I wasn't moved. The staging took away all the magic. It was yet another grey, lazy "reimagining" like dozens of others.

    I do NOT want to go to opera to be "challenged". Especially given that Mr Holten et al seem to think that making opera "challenging" means making it hard or impossible to understand. I go to be moved and/or entertained. The great operas do that, if they are allowed to by directors who love and understand them.

    It should have been a highlight of the year. It wasn't.

  17. James Gordon responded on 13 December 2013 at 12:02pm Reply

    I heard interview clips with Stephen Langridge during the radio broadcast and I understand why he and other directors are reluctant to commit themselves too much in print or even in conversation. A good production does not compel a single interpretation; rather, it encourages a response (both emotionally and intellectually). This will be different for every member of the audience, especially in a work as rich in textual and musical symbolism as Parsifal. I and some others in the comments above can respond to this production in largely Christian terms, while the radio commentary suggested that the intention was to play down explicitly Christian symbolism. The same arguments apply to both traditional and modernising stagings.

    Sometimes some of us just "won't get" a production. This year, I "didn't get" Eugene Onegin, was bored/irritated by Nabucco and had mixed reactions to Sicilian Vespers. In these 3 cases, despite the production, high musical standards and some of the acting redeemed the evening.

    Wagner saw his art as "recognising the figurative value of the mythic symbols which [religion] would have us believe in their literal sense, and revealing their deep and hidden truth through an ideal presentation" (Religion and Art, tr. W.Ashton Ellis). In other words, like Jesus, he is telling parables (stories) which invite a response. The response encouraged by the Good Samaritan parable is to "Go and do likewise". I think Wagner (and this production) is saying something similar. That's challenging - not in the theatre but when we come out of it!

  18. bill worley responded on 13 December 2013 at 5:28pm Reply

    I am never one to post any comments about an opera performance but after this travesty I can not contain myself. Apart from Pape and Findley who were outstanding I found the whole thing dreadful. At times the production was distasteful. As for Pappano's conduction, well you know what they say, if you can't find anything good to say, then say nothing!! It's time he left.

  19. jane elliot responded on 18 December 2013 at 8:50pm Reply

    I went to see Parsifal tonight at my local cinema, my first wagner experience though have been to the opera for years at ROH and elsewhere. I left after the first act. I thought the singing and orchestra were brilliant, the production was so vile inexplicable and revolting that I had to leave.. I have never left an opera in my life before. I thought the depiction of the child was grotesque and his mutilation, indicating christ on the cross... and the Hitler Youth/ soldiers in jack boots horrendous. I felt there were huge sexual overtones here of a very nasty nature I wonder if I am alone in thinking this. I am not sure this has put me off ever trying wagner again, I think it has despite the sublime singing.

    • Fr John Mackinnon responded on 19 December 2013 at 12:38am

      Jane - I feel you have somewhat missed the point of the opera. Indeed, it saddens my heart that you might not try Wagnerian splendour again. Tonight's performance was just so deep and intense, that perhaps its symbolism was missed? Please do give it another try.

  20. albin christen responded on 19 December 2013 at 9:14am Reply

    Kommentar leider nur auf deutsch:
    Habe die Aufführung in Zürich im Cinema Corso miterlebt. Herzliche Gratulation an die phantastische Sängerleistungen. Ansonsten: Ich glaube kaum, dass Richard Wagner an dieser Inszenierung seine Freude gehabt hätte.

  21. Michael Fontes responded on 29 December 2013 at 11:53pm Reply

    I went to the first night. I thought the production ruined a wonderful musical performance. Wagner's stage directions are very detailed. Why do directors feel they can ignore them? The musicians play the notes, after all. This production introduced elements which are not present in the opera. This producer seemed to wish to impose his ideas gratuitously on the piece; we have plenty to think about without his constant distraction. No wonder Wagner didn't want the piece performed outside Bayreuth. I came over from France for this; I won't come again without seeing who the producer is to be.

    • H Edelglass responded on 16 January 2014 at 6:01pm

      Thank you Mr Fontes - I should have read all the comments before I went to the local movie theatre on January 15th, 2014, to see this production of 'Parsifal. If I had known how empty-headed the visual experience would be, I would have stayed home So much for the unity of music, drama and image!

  22. Francisco Diego responded on 30 December 2013 at 10:06am Reply

    This is not Parsifal.

    Why these extremely creative and talented producers don’t go all the way in their amazing creativity and write the scripts and music and give titles to their own surely superb works of art instead of stealing the genius of others? Why these egotistic parasites are given the power to distort and kill colossal works?

    Why don’t they instead listen to the music, read AND FOLLOW the clear staging instructions from the real genius. The music talks about a misty forest, a sunrise, a flying swan, a hovering spear, a glowing grail... Plenty of room for creativity and innovation there using modern technology such as video projections, laser and imaginative light effects. So why not enhance the performance instead of fighting against it?

    The composer will always fill their halls and their performances will be sold out, so why opera houses around the world allow this massacre?

    Will we ever see Parsifal again?

    • Roberto Cacciaglia responded on 18 January 2014 at 11:11am

      Indeed, Francisco. I fear we will never see Parsifal again... As always, it is a matter of taste but, personally, I do not appreciate productions that make the already obscure meaning of this most controversial opera, even more so. I found Langridge's visual rendition of the work downright ugly. I do hope that the ROH will think of something else for Parsifal in fhe future.

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