By Lynne Gray, PhD
Thursday, April 9
Starring Katarina Dalayman, Jonas Kaufmann, Peter Mattei, Evgeny Nikitin, and René Pape, conducted by Daniele Gatti. From March 2, 2013.
What could be more epic – or more appropriate for this Easter week – than a story about the legend of the Holy Grail – even if it happens to be set in what the Met calls a “post-apocalyptic” time – whatever that means! Nevertheless, this is a cast for the ages and deserves a listen for the sheer magnitude of the musical – and sometimes the visual – experience. (Depending, of course, on whether you are wowed or disgusted by the cutting-edge technology it took to keep the entire stage covered in a veritable swimming pool of bright red “blood,” heated and germ-free, while being soaked up into the dancer’s filmy, white dresses!)
A bit of background is very useful for this opera. The Grail has been guarded for centuries by a secret order of knights at Monsalvat – the Knights of the Holy Grail – who are sworn to protect it. In addition to the Grail, the knights were also entrusted with the Holy Spear (which pierced the side of the Redeemer on the cross while the Grail held his blood). The order has a king, currently Amfortas, along with his knights and esquires, etc., who all serve the Grail. As the opera begins, we learn that Amfortas suffers horribly from an incurable wound. The story goes that a dark sorcerer, Klingsor, once sought to become a knight of the Order but was denied admission due to, shall we say, his more carnal interests (the actual details are far more gruesome, but I leave those for you to discover on your own should you be that curious!).
Klingsor did not take his rejection well and so sought revenge. He learned the dark arts and then filled his domain below Monsalvat with Flowermaidens (the ones with the red feet pictured below). The Flowermaidens’ mission is to seduce and kill wayward Grail Knights. Klingsor successfully lured Amfortas into a trap using his Flowermaidens and another irresistible female – his thrall Kundry. Therefore, Amfortas lost the Holy Spear to Klingsor – hence the incurable wound from which Amfortas now suffers.
Returning to Monsalvat in shame, Amfortas had a holy vision which told him that in order to be redeemed and have his wound healed he must wait for a “pure fool” who would eventually be enlightened by compassion.
Enter Parsifal (who turns out to be the father of Lohengrin – but that’s another opera!) He is a completely naïve youth (obviously the much sought-after pure fool!), having lost both his father (a Grail knight killed in battle) and his mother. He is now an aimlessly wandering, but rather expert archer, hunting in the vicinity of the Temple of the Grail at Monsalvat. He brings down a swan, is roundly chastened by the knights who catch him, breaks his bow over his knee in remorse and is thus invited to observe a ritual.
Being a fool, of course, the ritual means nothing to him beyond causing a good deal of confusion – and the strange phenomenon that he momentarily experiences Amfortas’ horrible pain. Obviously not yet being ready to become a knight, he is sent out into the world to learn compassion. Needless to say, he, like Amfortas, rather quickly stumbles into, and is caught by, the Flowermaidens. Klingsor then awakens his secret weapon, Kundry and sends her to finish off the job. Kundry – an exceptionally complex character (who, because of her past sins – at the foot of the cross no less – can never weep, only jeer) is controlled by Klingsor, but craves the release of death. She is, however, sometimes able to temporarily break free and when she does, she seeks eventual redemption for herself by helping the Grail knights. These visits to the Grail knights when Klingsor is pre-occupied are highly unpredictable, but she brings Amfortas balm to comfort his pain – although I digress.
Locked in Klingsor’s domain, our fool, Parsifal, is sorely tempted by Kundry. When he does finally weaken and kisses her, he immediately experiences Amfortas’ pain once again and so is actually able to resist her in the end. This causes her to curse him in anger and then in desperation, to call in Klingsor who hurls the Holly Spear at Parsifal. Somehow the spear is stopped in mid-air, allowing Parsifal to retrieve it for himself. When Parsifal makes the sign of the cross with his new-found weapon, Klingsor’s realm disappears in a spectacular conflagration. Our hero, nevertheless, still falls victim to Kundry’s final curse which was that he should wander forever without finding his way back to the Grail.
Despite the curse, after many years of searching (and presumably after finally learning compassion – and a whole lot more) Parsifal does once again stumble upon Monsalvat. Amazingly, Kundry has also just been found unconscious under a bush by Gurnemanz, the senior Grail knight – and oh — it’s Good Friday – certainly an auspicious day for miracles. The dramatic final scenes – full of Christian religious symbolism and redemption – are accompanied by dramatic and inspiring music that can’t help but leave you uplifted and hopeful – not such a bad thing in this time….
Friday, April 10
Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
Starring Diana Damrau, Vittorio Grigolo, Elliot Madore, and Mikhail Petrenko, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. From January 21, 2017.
Bartlett Sher’s staging of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette updates the action to 18th-century Verona and with just a single ingenious set that transforms seamlessly from ballroom, to balcony, to abbey, to tomb he expertly conjures both the beauty and the tragedy of this timeless love story. (The now semi-disgraced) tenor Vittorio Grigolo and the incredible coloratura soprano Diana Damrau will enchant you as Shakespeare’s star-crossed young lovers. Damrau starts us right off with glittering coloratura virtuosity in Juliet’s vivacious entrance aria – a waltz so irresistible, anyone would be compelled to scale a balcony for her. Grigolo is perfectly convincing in his passionate longing and his moving rendition of the famous aria “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!”
I’m sure I don’t need to review this story for you, so curl up on the couch with your Kleenex box and surround yourself with Gounod’s glorious music. Re-acquaint yourself with Juliette’s youthful enthusiasm, Roméo’s hot-headed ardor, Tybalt’s hatred for the Montagues, Mercutio’s sacrifice, the secret marriage in Frère Laurent’s cell, the missed messages and the final tragedy that brings about a sad peace after the ardently sung ending.
1. Jonas Kaufmann as the title character in Wagner’s “Parsifal” – Credit Micaela Rossato, the Metropolitan Opera 2013
2. Jonas Kaufmann and Evgeny Nikitin with Flowermaidens in Wagner’s “Parsifal” – Credit Micaela Rossato, the Metropolitan Opera 2013
3. Jonas Kaufmann with Peter Mattei and René Pape in Wagner’s “Parsifal” – Credit Micaela Rossato, the Metropolitan Opera 2013
4. Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau as the title characters in “Roméo et Juliette.” Credit…Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
5. Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau in the Met’s “Roméo et Juliette.” Credit…Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
6. Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau in the Met’s “Roméo et Juliette.” Credit…Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera