Richard Wagner's last opera has remained controversial since its first performance for its unique, and, for some, unsavory blending of religious and erotic themes and imagery. Based on one ...
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Richard Wagner's last opera has remained controversial since its first performance for its unique, and, for some, unsavory blending of religious and erotic themes and imagery. Based on one of the medieval epic romances of King Arthur and the search for the holy grail (the chalice touched by the lips of Christ at the last supper), it recounts over three long acts how a "wild child" unwittingly invades the sacred precincts of the grail, fulfilling a prophecy that only such a one can save the grail's protectors from a curse fallen upon them. Interpreters of the work have found everything from mystical revelation to proto-fascist propaganda in it. Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's production doesn't avoid either aspect, but tries synthesize them by seeking their roots in the divided soul of Wagner himself. The action unfolds on a craggy landscape which turns out to be a gigantic enlargement of the composer's death mask, among deliberately tatty theatrical devices: puppets, scale models, ...Written by
Among the severed heads at the base of the broken phallus in Klingsor's castle (symbolizing the self-castration that gave the wizard his powers - this is one weird opera) are those of Karl Marx, Wagner himself...and Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who was one of Wagner's most devoted champions until he broke with him over this very opera (he despised Christianity as a "slave" religion and thought Wagner had caved in to bourgeois morality). See more »
Parsifal is one of my two favorite Wagner operas or music dramas, to be more accurate, (Meistersinger is the other.) though it's hard to imagine it as the "top of anyone's pops". The libretto, by the composer as usual, is a muddle of religion, paganism, eroticism, and possibly even homo-eroticism, and its length may make it seem to the audience like hearing paint dry.
Wagner, being a famous anti-Semite, (Klingsor may be one of his surrogate Jewish villains.) naturally entrusted the premiere to an unconverted (not for want of RW's trying!) Hermann Levi, who was his favorite conductor! (Go figure!) Kundry, a most mixed-up-gal and another likely Jewish surrogate, is both villainous or benevolent, depending on the scene.
Considering that many video versions of Parsifal seem on the stodgy side, this film of the opera is, in comparison, a breath of fresh air. Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, the director, has brought considerable imagination to it but it's hard to know why he made some of his choices. For example: the notorious dual Parsifals (of each gender!), the puppets, the death-mask-of-Wagner set and various dolls and symbols such as the Nazi swastika in one of the traveling scenes. (If I remember, the "real" Engelbert Humperdinck wrote the actual music to pad out the scene changes.) Though Wagner himself died much too early to be an actual Nazi, many of his descendants (As well as his second wife Cosima.) were at least fellow-travelers, including their grandson Wolfgang Wagner who still runs the Bayreuth Festival at an advanced age. In fact, Wolfgang's son Gottfried Wagner, in complete opposition to his father, has tried to come to terms honestly with his great-grandfather.
Syberberg, too, seems politically ambiguous from what I've read. In 1977, he made a well-known film on Hitler, "Hitler: ein Film aus Deutschland" (Sometimes called "Our Hitler" in English.). Since it lasts all of 8 hours and hasn't been widely distributed, most people have not seen it (including myself.).
Armin Jordan, the conductor of the audio CD on which this film is based, plays Amfortas (sung by Wolfgang Schöne) Edith Clever (Yvonne Minton) plays Kundry, Michael Kutter and Karin Krick play the dual Parsifals (Both sung by Reiner Goldberg.!) and Robert Lloyd and Aage Haugland both play and sing Gurnemanz and Klingsor.
Though the opera takes place over a long period of time and all (except Kundry?) have been described as having aged considerably between Acts 2 and 3, no one looks a day older by the end of the opera. (The magic of the Grail? In this opera the Grail is the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and not Mary Magdalene as in more recent times, an idea I find preposterous!).
The conducting and singing are all quite serviceable and the DVD seems to have improved the sound, if not the picture, to a great extent. (Yes, I agree that "Kna's" approach is superior, even on the second, stereo, version but he is probably superior to all recorded versions on the whole.)
Not a Parsifal for all Wagnerites but I think it works quite well as a filmed opera.
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