Thursday, March 07, 2013

Last trip to Monsalvat

I've already talked about Parsifal's tenor, other singers, its conductor, and some elements of the production. A few more thoughts.

If you wondered why Carolyn Choa's choreography got some particular praise on opening night, it's because all the reviewers sit on Orchestra level. While the overall arrangements/physical designs of Francois Girard and set designer Michael Levine seem to have been optimized for a tier or two up (you can't see the pool of blood at all from the floor, and the circle of knights is much more impressive seen in perspective of its full depth), Choa's Act II work is wholly coherent only from the two-dimensional view in Orchestra, which puts all the Flower Maidens and their patterns in one undulating line -- it's decent but a bit scattered from anywhere else. Perhaps the moviecast caught the good angles of all the production parts, because there's no single seat that does it.

As for meaning... Girard's production does add/amplify one thread of story that's not explicitly in Wagner: the differentiation (indeed, literal division) between men and women we see from the staged prelude to Parsifal's dissolution of it at the time of the final rite. I don't think this is exactly meant to be sinister -- it is revelation that first distinguishes them (via what we see to be a true religious experience), and if there is anything amiss in this first scene it's Parsifal's (befuddled) presence. For he if he's not a latecomer his youth and foolishness are inexplicable -- having his Act I incomprehension be an echo makes it less interesting, not more -- and if he was always already present in the scene his multiple arrivals at Monsalvat should not be so disruptive. In any case, Parsifal seems still to be acting within the framework of the initial differentiation in Act II: although his compassion/identification with Amfortas turns out to be the fated source of wisdom and power, compassion with Kundry and her sob story turns out to be temptation. Only when he returns as holy re-creator of the social & ritual order can he dissolve this distinction, too, as part of the dead-ended previous state. (Perhaps he had in mind that divine nourishment or not, the order would eventually literally dead-end without births.) And so it makes perfect sense that Kundry now is included in the rite, and that Parsifal's compassion now can encompass her long suffering and release as he releases Amfortas.

As you might expect from a show that depicts two distinct ritual orders being born, the religious signaling of this Parsifal never quite commits to being (or not being) wholly "about" anything more specific than religion per se. On first view one might take this as the least Christian version of the show possible, but of course there's still a spear, still a Grail, crosses being worn by Kundry, and nothing obscuring or disrupting the very Christian (or at least Christian-mythical) themes in Wagner's text. Other traditions are in fact similarly offered piecemeal rather than in whole, and what's amazing is that it doesn't seem like a lazy concatenation of tropes, even when (in Act III) Gurnemanz is offering his glorious and moving invocation of Good Friday noon as Parsifal sits in a yoga meditation pose while the dual superimposed moons behind him create the empty circle one might recognize from certain Buddhist variants... The meta-thread of creation and re-creation (above) and the unifying reverent seriousness of the acting carries things through.

*     *     *

I suspect I would have enjoyed Tuesday's performance more if I hadn't already absorbed previous iterations of the show. Asher Fisch was, as I'd predicted, more straightforward in his conducting than Daniele Gatti, and I suspect I'd have appreciated the truly beautiful tone and uncluttered shape Fisch drew from the players if I hadn't grown accustomed to the way his predecessor seemed to wait for the hurt -- or emptiness -- itself to speak (in still-coherent tones from the orchestra, generating the same tension between sound and sense exemplified on stage by Mattei's stunning Amfortas). This production, in particular, with its austere last act, seems to have been fit not only to Kaufmann's Parsifal but Gatti's version of the score.

Micaela Martens -- replacing the ill Katarina Dalayman -- had a spot of trouble near the end of her first Act II exchange with Parsifal, but her substantial rich mezzo did well through Kundry's part as a whole. She didn't quite have Dalayman's firm presence on stage and in the production's details, but it's hard to expect that sort of comfort from a cover. Again, not seeing it beforehand would probably have eliminated the unfair comparisons... If you haven't gone to this show yet, you certainly should -- tomorrow, if you can, or to Wednesday's moviecast rerun.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.