Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Night (and Part of an Afternoon) at the Opera. Parsifal.

Molnar Levente playing Amfortas in the middle.

Clocking in at five and a half hours (including two intermissions), Parsifal is among the longest of  Richard Wagner's (often very long) operas.  I mention this at the start of the post because the opera's length is among its most notable attributes, especially when watched live in a jam packed theater.

Parsifal, from my relatively uneducated perspective, is different from the other Wagner operas I've experienced.  Not just longer, but less dramatic, less melodic. It tells a version of the grail story and is traditionally performed in Budapest over the Easter weekend.  (The tradition began in 1924, continued til the end of World War II, and returned in 1983 on the centenaray of Wagner's birth.)

The staging of Parsifal in Budapest is very traditional and well accepted by a reverent audience.  The production is filled with echoes of Easter and redemption.  The opera contains at least two Christ parallels.  The first is Amfortas, who inherited the task of protecting the Grail and Spear of the crucifixion from his father.  Amfortas lost the Spear after being seduced by Kundry and was then wounded in his side by that Spear, a wound that will not heal.   The Brotherhood of the Grail is waiting for someone to someone to save Amfortas, "a wise fool, enlightened by compassion." That would be Parsifal, the second Christ figure, who stumbles unknowingly on the Grail,Brotherhood, doesn't understand what he has seen, resists being seduced, regains the Spear, but is cursed to wander for years before stumbling, once again, onto the Grail Brotherhood, now feeling the compassion he earlier lacked, and redeeming all..

In this production, Parsifal and the Grail brotherhood are, for the most part, saintly and devout. Amfortas, on the other hand, is human, endures great suffering, and is terrified of the pain involved in the transubstantiation of the blood the Grail demands.  Thus, while everyone else in the opera moves in stately ceremony, Amfortas throws himself around the stage like a crazy man who understands that suffering, not just transcendence, is at the heart of Christ's sacrifice.  It was for me, someone who is not a Christian, the most thrilling part of the opera. (It helped that the singer performing Amfortas had a wonderful voice and was able to act.)

From Act I


The divine contents of the sacred chalice
glow with radiant glory;
thrilled by the agony of ecstasy,
I feel the fount of divine blood
pour into my heart:
the ebb of my own sinful blood
in mad tumult
must surge back into me,
to gush in wild terror
into the world of sinful passion:
it breaks open the door anew
and now rushes out
here, through the wound, like His,
struck by a blow from that same Spear
which pierced the Saviour,
from whose wound the Holy One
wept tears of blood for man's disgrace
in the heavenly yearning of pity -
and now from my wound, in holiest Office,
the custodian of the most divine treasure
and guardian of its redeeming blam
spills forth the fevered blood of sin,
ever renewed from the fount of longing
that - ah! - no repentance of mine
can ever still! Mercy! Mercy!
All-merciful one, have mercy on me!
Take back my inheritance,
heal my wound,
that I may die holy,
pure and whole for Thee!

1 comment :

  1. 5.5 hours! I hope your seat was comfortable and that refreshments were available in the intermissions.