Cher Public

The opposite of canard is truth

“Is Parsifal, then, a religious artwork, or is it a work ‘about’ religion? Unsurprisingly, the answer turns out to be: both. More profoundly, however, the very material of Wagner’s drama may be understood to lie in exploring the relationship between the two tendencies.” This week, an anti-canard: words of wisdom from the always fascinating Boulezian.

  • grimoaldo

    “Indeed, in 1879, Wagner described Parsifal as ‘this most Christian of works’….When Klingsor’s spear is stopped in its tracks by the sign of the Cross, the spear is transformed into an agent of healing. Yet although Parsifal makes the sign, agency comes from beyond. For both Schopenhauer and Wagner, Mitleid was closely connected, though not exclusively, with Christianity – and what could be more Christian than the sign of the Cross?”

    Well, I think what could be more Christian than magical relics and superstitious mumbo-jumbo is the injunction to “love thy neighbour as thyself.” It is a degraded, Dark Ages type of Christianity (imo) that sees supposed souvenirs of saints or “the Redeemer” as having magical qualities or making the sign of the cross as a powerful ritualistic action that will ward off evil or produce some immediate and real reaction in the objective outside world, it’s just a symbol.

    “Parsifal, it should be stressed, is not Christ.” No, he isn’t, that is sort of the whole point of “‘Redemption to the Redeemer!’, Christ has become contaminated by his earthly custodians and he has to be redeemed by a new, untainted Christ, and that is Parsifal after he has been anointed by Gurnemanz in Act Three.

    “Wagner never, however, claims that Parsifal is itself a sacred rite”
    I don’t feel that this is correct, as the author says at the end, Wagner calls it a Bühnenweihfestspiel which he translates as ‘stage-festival-consecration-play’ but is it not the case that that word could be translated “A festival play to make a stage holy” or “a festival play for the consecration of a stage”?

    There is certainly a lot to think about and discuss in Parsifal, I think that a lot of Wagnerians simply close their eyes and ears to dark and disturbing elements that they don’t want to face and just gloss over them, for instance, the perverted view of sex as nasty and evil, Amfortas is in constant emotional spiritual and physical agony, intense suffering, because he had a bit of naughty nookie with Kundry and while they were bonking he lost the magical relic that pierced the “Redeemer’s” side. I hope nobody still thinks along those kinds of lines today, Wagner in the Ring is very “right-on” and “progressive” with a totally different attitude to sex, Parsifal is a very different kettle of fish, I think one has to drop assumptions about Wagner gleaned from his other works and look at Parsifal on its own and there one will find a lot of not very pretty ideas.

  • mercadante

    A thorough study of Wagner’s writings and sources during the gestation and, then, later composition of the libretto and music of Parsifal suggests that it has more Buddhism in it than Christianity, something almost never alluded to by any director I have encountered (ignorance, laziness, not interested?)

    • phoenix

      neither of the 3 -- I just think they preferred to pick up different threads. Messianism, rebirth, redemption, etc. are universal philosophical/religious/tribal concepts -- appearing all over the world in many separate cultures.
      -- Thanks Boulezian to the fotos in this article -- I particularly enjoyed Alois Pennarini’s Carole Lombard hairdo.
      -- Has anyone ever seen a memorial foto from the 1913 Wagner centenary celebrations performance of Parsifal at the Wiener Hofoper (Staatsoper)? It was Amelie Materna’s (long overdue- from the looks of the foto in Boulezian’s blog) farewell.

      • My pleasure, phoenix. Yes, that’s memorable hair, by any standards. I don’t ever recall seeing a picture from those 1913 performances, but suspect there must be something somewhere. I’ll report back if I find anything.

        And thank you, of course, to La Cieca, for so kindly mentioning me…

    • “François Girard, Director of the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production of ‘Parsifal,’ says he has emphasized such Buddhist themes as renunciation, reincarnation, and enlightenment through compassion.”

      Girard’s production originally has Parsifal in the final act visually suggesting a Buddhist monk (shaved head, rough robelike garment). For the Met production, Jonas Kaufmann wore a cropped grey wig for this scene, but kept the “robe.”

      The very first image in the Calixto Bieito production of this music drama was of a young woman discovering a length of saffron-colored fabric and draping herself in it before adopting an attitude of prayer. (I won’t say “praying,” because part of the point of the Bieito production as I understand it is that it takes place in a world without any sense of what God is.)

      These are two allusions; I am sure there are others.

  • alejandro

    Not an expert on Wagner or Parsifal by any means, but I felt like I had a spiritual experience by the end of the 1st act when it was done at the Met last season.

    I do like to say the Met is my Church. It’s where I go for solace. But that production really took the opera as spiritual experience to a new level (I need to find a video of the production because I think I could barely absorb Acts 2 and 3 because Act 1 affected me so profoundly).

    (I also had the experience of reading Jungian philospher/writer Robert Johnson’s HE . . . a book about the male psyche that uses the story of Parsifal as the archetypical male journey towards maturity fresh in my mind . . . and I identify as a Buddhist and I was raised Catholic, so Parsifal was hitting me on all sorts of levels.)

  • grimoaldo

    “Indeed, in 1879, Wagner described Parsifal as ‘this most Christian of works’

    If I may be forgiven a little seasonal preachiness, imo “the most Christian of works” is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, which does not contain a lot of sick stuff about blood and guilt, or mystical mumbo-jumbo about redemption, or magical relics, or a revulsion from sex, but is a beautiful fable with the message -- “Love your neighbour. When you see someone in distress, help them if you can. Treat every day not as the opportunity for making another buck, but as the chance to bring a little happiness and joy to those around you.”

    • armerjacquino

      I agree up to a point, grim, but ‘A Christmas Carol’ is more a political than a religious work for me. A couple of years ago, Occupy London arranged a reading of it on the steps of St Paul’s with a wonderful group of actors (Allan Corduner, Tim Piggott-Smith, Alan Cox, Rachael Stirling and others) and it struck me then how unequivocally, passionately, angrily and wonderfully left-wing a work it is. The section with the terrifying, emaciated children (the boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want) is as close to blatant agitprop as you get in the 19thC. And yet it’s so often smoothed into a sweet story about a nice old man who buys a turkey.

  • Camille

    For christ’s sake! Won’t any of youse guys go pick up the collection of writings of Wagner’s entitled, àpropos, Jesus of Nazareth, and published by University of Nebraska Press. It’s got a ton of stuff about all of this in it!

    Gotta go!

  • Camille

    “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

    • phoenix

      La vérité…la vérité…

  • La Valkyrietta

    I think perhaps La Cieca means the article is a sensible one. To complete the paragraph quoted, “Specific concern with Christianity is far from incidental, in that it enables exploration of both cyclical (Schopenhauerian) and teleological (Hegelian) conceptions of time – otherwise understood, the archetypal ‘Greek’ and ‘Jewish’ strands of the Christian faith. Parsifal, like Christianity, is neither merely cyclical nor straightforwardly linear; it is certainly far from the ‘timeless’ work that reactionary commentators have claimed. Instead, we watch, listen to, and participate in a struggle between time and eternity.” Now all those words are not Wagner’s, but about Wagner’s last work. They are thus open to disagreement, as is any critic’s statement. This other critic,

    ends his review saying, “Parsifal is what you make of it. The music alone brings coherence.” And it is a wonderful score, I might add, so much so that it has Camille speaking in riddles. :)

  • La Valkyrietta

    Oops, her review, sorry.

  • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

    BBC Radio 3’s Building a Library today covered Parsifal recordings. David Nice’s survey is available as a podcast on their website.

    Despite leaning generally towards Knappertbusch, in the end he plumped for Kubelik with Moll (Gurnemanz), King (Parsifal), Minton (Kundry), Weikl (Amfortas), Mazura (Klingsor), Salminen (Titural),Tolz Boys’ Choir, Bavarian Radio Symphony and Chorus [Arts Archives 430272].

    The Levine versions are given extremely short shrift and, despite Waltraud Meier’s recent status as the go-to Kundry, with four recordings available, he does not rate her. He feels her lack of stamina is a particular shame in the Domingo match-up, which he might otherwise have picked.

    • MontyNostry

      Just what one needed at 9.30 on a sunny Saturday morning, I thought. (NOT!)

    • Feldmarschallin

      The Kna from 51 is the best IMO. Busch is also very good but not in great sound. I actually like that Kubelik one as well and Moll is something else on that. Levine I wouldn’t even bother with as well despite Meier.

      • Porgy Amor

        I actually really like Levine’s glamour voices on the Met recording (Norman, Domingo, Moll, et al.), and of course the orchestral sound at any random point sampled will be immaculate. But this is one of the slowest recordings ever, slower than he typically conducted (conducts?) this opera in the theater. All the drawing-out is to dubious effect; it doesn’t sound more profound in his hands, just slick and glacial. The first time through, I repeatedly thought it was time to change discs, when he was just “savoring a silence.”

    • Krunoslav

      Of course, Reggie’s from the WNO is the go-to version, despite a horrid American in the name part. The ROH-nurtured Commonwealth singer Minton saves this Kubelik version--and also (with Our Own Robert Lloyd)--the Jordan set from excessive Teutonic vulgarity.

      • Regina delle fate

        lol -- are you parodying “The Vicar” or do you just hate all British and ROH-nurtured Commonwealth singers? Presumably they have no business singing in Parsifal. I doubt anyone would claim that the late Warren Ellsworth was the most magnetically sung Parsifal on disc, but he was fantastic in the theatre, light-voiced, but youthful, athletic -- everything two of the Parsifals I have seen this year -- Botha and O’Neill -- are not. He died tragically young. He was also a dashing Siegmund in the Welsh Ring alongside Dame Anne Evans -- presumably another Brit who had no business singing Wagner.

        • armerjacquino

          ‘parodying the Vicar’


          • MontyNostry

            Has anyone ever seen Kruno and the Vicar in a chatroom at the same time?

            • manou

              Never when Nerva Nellie is there.

        • Krunoslav

          “Dame Anne Evans”

          Bayreuth’s finest Bruennhilde and the greatest Isolde since Rosina Buckman. No nasty Nordic *volume* compromised her purity of tone.

          • Regina delle fate

            Has anyone, except possible Evans’s mother/husband/Aunty Fanny ever claimed this? What’s your agenda? Or is this yet another Harold Rosenthal tribute post? He died 25 years ago, so I suspect he’s past caring.

    • Porgy Amor

      I am as big a W. Meier fan as there could be, but if I were choosing the best Kundry voice on audio recordings, I too would put her below Ludwig, Jones, Mödl, and others. He is correct — she should be seen and heard rather than only heard. Fortunately, one can see her in the productions of Schenk, Kupfer, and Lehnhoff, each different from the others, each a complete and fascinating portrayal. There are distinctive qualities she brings to the role, but each time she seems to have rethought the part, cooperating with the director to arrive at something specific; more than the costumes change (her video Isoldes are the same way).

      I cannot go along with his calling her a “liability” on any Parsifal recording, but I actually thought she and Domingo (whom Nice praises) both were sounding a bit faded and dried-out by the time of that Thielemann/DG. I do like it, and their performances, but not as much as I had hoped.

      • Regina delle fate

        Interesting how this thread has turned from comments on Boulezian’s review of the ROH Parsifal to Nice’s Building a Library….

        • Regina delle fate

          Sorry B’s article reprinted from the ROH programme. He also reviewed the show -- not favourably! You have to admire someone who bites the hand that feeds him!

          • grimoaldo


            “Sir Antonio Pappano….conducting devoid of any understanding of what makes Wagner Wagner … Wagner reduced to a slightly Teutonic Verdi”

            Actually his conducting of Verdi in the recent Sicilian Vespers wasn’t any good.

            “For some reason, the Grail is replaced by a little boy, whose side is pierced…The way Titurel and some of the knights touch the boy’s wound suggests paedophilia, but that does not seem to be carried through, so maybe it is just another unfortunate misjudgement. Parsifal has arrived dressed like a vagrant, with more than a touch of the Jimmy Savile about him, so again: who knows?…Alas, Parsifal, as sung by Simon O’Neill, sometimes even sounded a little like Jimmy Savile too.”

            Oh, dear.

            “There is, moreover, no castle to be destroyed, no sign of the Cross, etc”

            Something so many “modern” Wagner productions just drop is the element of intended stagecraft to amaze / delight the audience, not a million miles away from the effects in the British seasonal entertainments called “pantomimes”. The castle collapses before your eyes! The spear hangs suspended in the air! Read the libretto and you will see that Wagner lays great stress on the effect he wants from two of what in pantos are called “transformation scenes”, the transitions to the Grail scenes when there is supposed to be a cyclorama with Parsifal walking in front of it and the scene changes before your eyes. Directors now just drop all that if they feel like it and re-write the ending too --

            “Amfortas and Kundry walking off together”

            I enjoyed very much a recent concert of Parsifal Act Three at the Kennedy Center conducted by Christoph Eschenbach with Nikolai Schukoff, quite marvellous, as Parsifal and Hampson as Amfortas, I am starting to find concert performances often more enjoyable than staged ones.

            • Regina delle fate

              Grim -- I heard that Schukoff would be Parsifal at the Salzburg Easter Festival when Rattle was going to conduct it. When Thielemann took over, he decided he wanted Botha (!) instead. I’ve seen Schukoff as Parsifal in München and he was excellent, above all convincing as a young, loutish innocent, which is the opposite of Botha’s portrayal. Amfortas is one of Hampson’s best recent roles and there is a long tradition of more lyrical baritones singing it. I’m going to Puss in Boots at the theatre next week and hope to be able to report of collapsing castles and spears hanging in the air. If a dove descends at the end, Puss will probably eat it.

            • Clita del Toro

              And Schukoff is sexy. I could never, ever bear to see Botha as Parsifal—his Lohengrin was bad enough. I am not that crazy about his voice although he is a good singer.

            • Buster

              Schukoff was excellent in the Konwitschny Attila. This always makes me smile:

            • Regina delle fate

              Clita -- my feelings exactly. A good singer, but lacking a memorable instrument nor an interesting artist. How he gets to appear in most of the world’s top opera houses -- the Met, Vienna, Salzburg, Covent Garden, Muenchen -- is really beyond me.

        • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

          In the case of Regina versus BV: Guilty! Oh, dear -- this makes me a troll in the true internet sense, i.e. not a contrarian who’s there simply to wind people up, but an evil genius who uses subterfuge to steer the conversation off topic. [The genius bit is, of course, beyond question].

          In my defence, there were only about 10 comments since this thread was posted two days ago (perhaps we are saving our energies for December 25th when we are promised canard with red cabbage and dumplings). Thus I thought it was safe enough to go OT with news of the BBC review.

          In the circumstances the Probation Act is applied, but I am also forbidden Falstaff in HD and instead must hop the 142 bus (there’s no cycling in today’s 70mph wind and rain) to catch the Guinness Choir’s perf of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. Any suggestion that I wanted to turn this into a Rossini thread all along is rejected out of hand, mind.

      • phoenix

        Interesting thread indeed! I don’t even care that much for Parsifal, but I have faithfully followed performances & bdcsts of it since 1963, so I must like it more than I think.
        -- David Nice: Waltraud Meier ‘does not rate’ with me either. Even when I first heard her live over 25 years ago in Manheim (Fricka) -- and later on at the Met as Kundry. However it was interesting to compare Waltraud Meier’s totally 180º Kundry interpretation to Jessye Norman’s performances (who also sang Kundry around that same time at the Met). Waltraud’s hollowness vs. Jessye’s warmth; Waltraud’s artificially over-projected, penetratingly loud “see what I can do” high notes vs. Jessye’s miniscule squeezed out efforts. Neither one of them was the ideal Kundry by any stretch of my imagination, but at least Jessye projected more sincerity & personal involvement in the role than Waltraud. I have never heard any dimension of sincerity from Waltraud Meier since then -- I guess I never will now -- and her voice, an ordinary comprimaria in it’s natural state, is now diminished. What did Barenboim, Levine & the others see/hear in her? Was it her superficiality that made her so relevant in these roles for conductors, directors & audiences? Alas, all I got was just another hard-hearted [Teutonic] Hannah (move over Diana D).

        • MontyNostry

          phoenix, I have only seen Meier in the theatre once (as Kundry, in fact, in the late 80s in London), but I have to agree that -- purely from a vocal point of view, at least -- I have never found her exceptional. The tone has always seemed rather shallow to my ear.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Although Meier has always tried to get more out of her voice than it really has to give, IMO to thrilling effect, I can’t agree that her voice is that of an ordinary comprimaria in its natural state. It’s not a rolls royce of a voice (excuse the Mary Kingism), but it is distinctive and arresting.

          I’m really surprised to see her accused of a lack of sincerity though. Even with her by now rather thread-bare voice over-taxed in difficult music, she is for me one of the most compelling artists I’ve seen. In particular, I will never forget her Sieglinde for the ROH.

          • doktorlehar

            My recollections are more in line with yours, Cocky K.

            She’s a singer I treasure and her voice by no stretch of the imagination is that of a “standard comprimaria.” Please. I’ve had the opportunity to hear her live in a diversity of roles and it always seemed to me that her voice was richer in tone and more interestingly textured than recordings conveyed. This is especially true, I think, with her lower register, which is fuller than it sounds on CD.

            Every single time I saw her perform, she blew everyone else off the stage, not just dramatically but also purely vocally. Her powerful, penetrating upper register was really exciting to experience in person.

            I saw her as Isolde, Sieglinde, Santuzza, Eboli (stunning, as a good Eboli should be) and perhaps most surpringly as the Composer in ‘Ariadne.’ The latter role came as a surprise; I didn’t even know she had it in her repertoire, but sing it she did, and for once it was pulled off with the passion and generosity of voice it deserves.

            She’s one of the few singers I’ll defend in this way, since I feel very lucky to have seen her so often.

            • A Meier Komponist would be something I’d love to see and hear. I’m with Cocky on this one. Hers has never been a great voice but it was more than an ordinary voice IMO. Putting aside the voice, she is simply one of the greatest singing actresses of her day.

            • Regina delle fate

              She is still magnetic in the theatre even when she doesn’t have quite enough voice for the roles she sings -- her Klytie in Aix was an example of that, this summer. She’s not a true contralto or the kind of raddled old bat with booming low notes, but whenever she is on stage, she commands you to watch her, even when she isn’t singing. Not one of the greatest voices, perhaps, but certainly on of the great artists -- for me no Kundry has equalled her in the theatre. On disc, Ludwig is hard to beat, Mödl if you don’t mind the hoots and squalls. :) Meier made three commercial audio recordings of Parsifal, including the Goodall one, in which she replaced the miscast, and struggling, Linda Esther Gray.

            • doktorlehar

              Not that anyone needs it, but here a reminder of how gripping this singer could be, even in a concert and in a homely dress:

              I just love the look on Levine’s face during the applause. You can read his mind clear as day: “What’s it gonna take, dear Wally, to get you to thing this in my house??”

            • doktorlehar: I vividly remember this performance from the live telecast. It was basically my introduction to Meier. No, it wasn’t the prettiest thing I’d heard and that cotillion dress was unfortunate. But the power and passion of her performance completely won me over. And I got a kick out of the fact that she sang Brangäne’s lines too instead of taking a break during that part.