When the Met introduced its last Parsifal in 1991, Plácido Domingo and Jessye Norman served as atypical Wagnerian attractions. The picture-postcard production was staged by Otto Schenk and designed by Günther Schneider-Siemssen. Things have changed.
The new Parsifal, shared with Lyon and Toronto, features more predictable principals, Jonas Kaufmann and Katarina Dalayman. And, as directed by François Girard with sets by Michael Levine and costumes by Thibault Vancraenenbroeck, everything looks stubbornly, sometimes perversely, modern.
The music-making, in any case, is strong. Daniele Gatti enforces grandeur in the pit without slighting nuance, and the orchestra sounds almost as brilliant as it did in the glory days of James Levine. Kaufmann, physically and vocally slender, performs Parsifal with rare sensitivity and point, more in the manner of Wolfgang Windgassen than Lauritz Melchior. Dalayman’s somewhat reticent Kundry rises to the high climaxes with laughing ease. Although René Pape moves casually through Girard’s stylised gesture-scheme, his wondrous bass never tires. Peter Mattei brings pathos and piety to Amfortas’s agonies, and Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor makes up in thrust for what he lacks in malevolence. The chorus, trained by Donald Palumbo, demonstrates virtuosity in depth.
Girard’s visual narrative toys starkly with Brechtian clichés. His favoured devices include codified movement patterns, blatant sexual symbols, blood stains for everyone, and projections that veer from realistic cloud formations to arty abstractions to misplaced moonscapes. Old mystical mumbo-jumbo rituals give way to new mystical mumbo-jumbo rituals enlisting barefoot mobs in mufti. The scene remains dark and cold, even when the text describes light and warmth. Carolyn Choa’s choreography favours static gestures and unison sways. Innovation may be modest here, but by local standards it seems revolutionary.
Incidental intelligence: Peter Gelb’s greatest success at the Met must involve his HD theatrical telecasts, but these come at a price. Distractions on Thursday included a mechanised camera constantly rolling on a forestage track, another camera suspended from a side loge on a moving crane, and obtrusive cameras stationed near the pit. So much for in-house illusions.