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5.0 out of 5 stars This new Parsival gives you a fresh look at this opera., 21 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Wagner: Parsifal (Gatti) [Blu-ray] [2014] (Blu-ray)
I shall write the review first, then delve into why Wagner composed Parsival the way he did and what it means. This latest edition of this opera, is according to the director a spiritual journey and mentions the German Philosopher Schopenhauer, Buddhism and Mythology. I have been writing about this subject in my Wagner Ring reviews. So, I thought to myself, at last a director who graps the meaning of this opera. He is bound to use Indian and other Eastern religious symbols, as happens in the Thielemann Parsival.(Read my review). However, this is not the case. The problem is although Wagner truely understood Mythology, Eastern and German philosophy, the majority of directors and musicians do not. But not to worry, you can read into the scenery what you like.

Act 1 opens with darken clouds hanging over the gathering. The Knights have white shirts and black pants, who sit in a circle on the right hand side of the screen. But on the left a huddle of women. The earth is baked with a crack down the middle, but slightly off center, as any good cinema director would do. Eventually, the sky changes into red, then a grey bar across the back of the stage, with a dark blue back cloth appears. This is when Parsival looks into the earth, which opens and he sees blood. Act 2. A dark cliff face with a gap, which shows the sky and clouds. A perfect setting for Act 2 of Die Walkure, when Fricka and Wotan discuss his wrongdoings. A pool of red blood where women holding spears stand. Act 3. Back to the dry baked earth, with holes dug into it. In the back ground two swirling white pipes, which symbolize spirituality. A red planet appears; that idea was pinched from Lars von Triers film, Melancholia. Then it disappears behind the clouds. Thus, this is a minimalist staging with modern dress, which I do not mind. Girard has placed Parsival slightly into the future, which is about us, our temptations, our weakness, the violent impulses in us. The earth has been ruined.

If Girard really understood Schopenhauer, he could have stated the world is a shocking place, why be born. Ignore life, and become like a mystic,detached from life. The barren Earth could represent ourselves, and Parsival the one who overcomes this situation, on his spiritual journey. This is how I choose to view this staging. I approached it with my own ideas. As I did with the new Barenboim, La Scala, Milan Ring cycle, where the director did not have a clue what he was talking about.Yet the staging and singing were fine. Like in Giraud's version of Parsival, the directors ideas did not interfere with the production.

Gatti conducts the Met opera orchestra and paces himself well. Thielemann conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden Orchestra is inside the music and brings out the emotional pulse threaded throughout the music.(read my review). In fact, that Parsival can be compared to Knappertsbusch's Parsival, recorded live at the 1962 Bayreuth Festival. Gatti's interpretation can be seen as a different insight into this sublime opera. It has merit. This one is dark and Thielemann's Parsival is light, with Eastern Statues and is well sung, as this version is. Get both.

The acting is marvellous. Rene Pape is Gurnemanz,and sounds like Moll in the Levine Parsival. That is praise indeed. Kundry Katarina Dalayman, has a voice suited for the role of Brunnhilde, which she has sung on many occassions. Michaela Schuster in the Thielemann version is equally as good. Amfortas Peter Mattei is very lyrical in the part. Parsival Jonas Kaufmann is the greatest tenor in the World, and brings his unique voice to this role and with his superb acting skills makes his part memorable. Klingsor Evgeny Nikitin makes this role believable. All parts are well taken. This Met Parsival has the best set of singers available today in this opera. This Parsival is worth owning. This opera will give you a different insight into Parsival, as the Thielemann does.

Some quotes from the intervals interviews. Pape: "Takes you into another dimension,such difficult vocal colours. The music takes you into another field. I have sung in Parsival's that were traditional, this one is modern; you adjust. I see this work as a spiritual piece. The director Girard got us to think about Buddhism and other belief systems. Gatti: I conducted this piece from 2008 to now. Everything in society is going too quick, we dont think. Take your time, for we are here for a purpose. Also, we are only here for a short time."

LCPM 2.O .DTS HD Master audio. 16.9. REGION ALL. Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian. 280 minutes. Gatti slower then the Thieleman at 242 min. Interviews.

The Key to understanding Parsifal.

Wagner began to write the Sketch for Jesus of Nazareth in 1849, but he discarded the idea. In 1854 while writing the music for Die Walkure he read Schopenhauer, the World as Will and Representation which introduced him to reincarnation. From 1855 to 1856 Wagner read Eugene Burnouf's "Introduction a L' histoire du Bouddhisme (Buddhism) and it inspired him to write the Victors, about Buddha. He thought that reincarnation would suit his leitmotives very well. This project preoccupied Wagner for 20 years. However, this opera never came into being because he had doubts about portraying Nirvana. Also Newman states "that much of the emotional and metaphysical impulse that would have gone into the Victors, had been expanded on Tristan and Isolde, and a great deal of what he would say in connection with the Victors, was finding its natural expression in Parsival. (Wagner nights 204-5).

Originally, the Victors and Parsifal were to have been seperate operas. What inspired him to compose the later opera, was Wolfram Von Eschenbach's early 13th century romance Parzival. He compressed Wolfram's enormous 24,810 line poem into just three climatic situations. In the final work these have been turned into three successive stages of compassion. How was Wagner able to write operas on two different belief systems? According to Millington. on June 7th 1855, Wagner wrote to Lizst "citing modern research as having established conclusively that Christianity is no more and no less than a branch of that venerable Buddhist religion which followed Alexander's Indian campaign, found its way , among other places, to the shores of the Mediterranean." In otherwords, Jesus was teaching basic Buddhist philosophy according to Wagner.

Now we get to the philosophies that influenced Wagner. The German Philosopher Feuerbach stated that we have created God in our own image. Everything we would like to be, but are not. So religion has to be seen as a product of the human mind, meeting basic human needs. Yet Feuerbach believed that we should not dismiss religion as mere fairy tales, for they tell us truths about ourselves. Also, instead of the love of God,we should love man. Once Wagner read in 1854, the German Schopenhauer's philosophy, a book he could identify with,it helped him to become at one with himself. Schopenhauer stated that suffering is caused by the will to live, which is the impulse within ourselves. We must overcome this will to exist by disengaging ourselves wholly from the world. Suicide is no way out. The only way is non attachment, the denial of the Will; a refusal to be involved. He called this the unknowable, the Will, which has been misunderstood. He further wrote, that the Metaphysical Will does manifest itself as the physical World, but also in music. Schopenhauer was amazed to find out he had not come to these conclusions alone, using rational thought, for he was an atheist. He found the same ideas in writings thousands of years old, eminating from cultures different to ours. But this German philosopher did think that Hinduism (he read the Upanishads everyday), Buddhism and Christianity taught the profoundest truths that there are. He thought music reveals the inner nature of the World. To complicate matters further, when we die, we all become one.

So what are we to make of this? Wagner was not a Christian, he saw religion as Feuerbach did, as man made. However, he did think that underlying this, were inner mystical truths, as in myth.This idea was slightly different to Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. Far from not understanding these philosophers, he could use them to his own advantage. Thus, he would have no problem in combining Buddhist views with Christian, also,he thought Jesus taught basic Buddhist teachings. Wagner did believe in reincarnation. Without Schopenhauer, Magee writes, Wagner could not have written Tristan and Isolde.(Bluray with Jones,Kollo and Lloyd. German opera,Berlin.) and Parsival. Magee also believes that the operas Tristan and Isolde and Parsifal are linked, because in this opera longing has been overcome; that did not happen in Tristan. The problem is that many musicologists dismiss Wagner's profound interest in philosophy, Western and Eastern, and think he required them as a prop and are not important. They completely disregard the fact,that in the Ring, Tristan und Isolde and Parsival, the philosophy is central to the opera. Hense, the confusion about these operas and its meaning.

Parsival involves the repudiation of sexual desire and renunciation of the will. But this opera is dominated mainly by Schopenhauerian and Buddhist thought. All the characters in this opera except Parsival, are looking for redemption in the wrong place. For example, the dishonoured knights are hoping for it from an endless repetition of religious ceremonial whose significance is gradually becoming meaningless. Amfortas seeks it in death. Kundry is in search of salvation through sexual fulfilment, though she can reach it by transcending her sexuality, which she wishes to do. She is a character brought over from the Buddhist opera, the Victors. Yet Parsival experiences the demands of the Will, masters them and puts them behind him. And this alone, we are told, is the path to salvation. So the killing of the Swan represents Wagners view that "even more with animals than with Man, does he feel kinship through suffering, for man by his philosophy can raise himself to a resignation that transcends his pain; whereas the mute unreasoning animal can only suffer without comprehending why. And so if there is any purpose in all this suffering it can only be the awakening of pity in man, who thus takes up the animal's failed existence into himself, and, by perceiving the error of all existence,becomes the redeemer of the world." The spear is a symbol of power over oneself rooted in the authenticity and integrity of the personality. Amfortas loses it because of his inability to resist the Wills demand. Klingsor achieves self sufficency, but he gains compassionless self isolation. He trades away love for power over others.

REFERENCES:App, U. Richard Wagner and Buddhism (2011) University Media. Brieler,P.Parsival: A spiritual journey.2013. The Met Opera. Holden,A.(Ed) The Penguin opera guide (1995) Viking. Magee, B. Wagner and Philosophy.(2001) Penguin books. Magee, B. The philosophy of Schopenhauer. (2009) Oxford University Press, New York. Millington, B. Richard Wagner-the sorcerer of Bayreuth.(2012). Thames and Hudson. Newman,E. Wagner Nights.(1977) Picador. Watson,D. Richard Wagner. A biography.(1979). J.M Dent and Sons.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Feb 2014 23:04:44 GMT
Ultrarunner has ears and eyes that go round corners and from his many operatic reviews he can obviously see and hear things most mortals cannot. This is not to deride in any way his extraordinarily insightful reviews, but at the end of the day I could not get past the gloom and the ponderous speed to catch the flashes of light he could see. 20% slower than Thieleman and so heavy with symbolism I felt weighed down by the load. If all this is your cup of tea then go for it but I suggest potential buyers of this new recording should read this revealing review a few times before making the leap. No problem for Nepali Sherpas or the ears and eyes of Jar Jar Blinks perhaps but a very heavy load for lesser mortals!

Posted on 23 Feb 2014 16:22:41 GMT
Ultrarunner says:

It is a matter taste and opinion; you may not like this production and that is your right, and I respect that. But what I wrote about Wagner, is how he thought. I could not make up his views if I tried. If you read my review, I do mention that the Thielemann is swifter and why I liked it. Also, I rated it up there with Knappertsbusch's version. However, although I think Giraud missed a chance with his Parsifal production and Gatti's version is slow, it has its merit's and is worth 5 stars. Also, over the years you have made it quite plain that you do not like extreme modern productions, and that is your right. I happen to be fortunate in that I like both traditional and modern productions. Regards, T.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Feb 2014 21:26:14 GMT
You are right in that I do not like modern productions that fail to open up something new and exciting in a old master that is reasonably easy to perceive. I do not sadly have either your astonishingly deep insights into Wagner's thinking or your ability to see so much in what I all too often find to be so little and have to rely on more basic fare to keep me going. You are very fortunate and your reviews invariably open up new shafts of light and are full of fascinating detail and historical tit bits. Your days on the high veldt have obviously given you acute hearing and visual perception that lesser mortals rarely possess! Everything you say about this Parsifal is relevant but for me it is still all just too slow, too gloomy and too heavy. As a matter of interest which of the three Blu-ray Parsifals and the many Blu-ray Rings do you play more often? Cheers

Posted on 24 Feb 2014 08:15:47 GMT
Last edited by the author on 24 Feb 2014 08:17:10 GMT
Ultrarunner says:
I do not play Parsival much. I have four two traditional: Levine Met Orchestra , with Weikl, Rootering, Kurt Moll, Siegfried Jerusalem, Waltraud Meier.264 mins. Also, Wolfgang Wagners production, 233 mins. Bayreuth Festival orchestra cond Horst Stein. Weikl, Salminen, Jerusalem, Roar and Randova. Bluray, Thielemann cond Staatskapelle Dresden. Koch ,Milling, Botha, Schuster. 242 mins.

My favourite two Rings are the Dutch Ring cond Haenchen, and the Lubeck ring cond Roman Brogl-Sacher with Rebecca Teem, a young Brunnhilde, both DVD's and modern. She is amazing and underrated, so is this ring. The Frankfurter Ring with the great Wotan Terje Stensvold, is pure Feuerbachian, cond Sebastian Weigle and is interesting. I would say I like all eleven DVD and Bluray Rings, but my favourite the Dutch ring, I play briefly everyday. Again the Ring cycles are merely a matter of opinion and taste. I am aware there are those who would be surprised at the rings I like.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Feb 2014 09:19:34 GMT
I agree about the Dutch Ring (and wish they would release it on Blu-ray) but also like the Spanish and Chéreau productions. I like the Thielemann Parsifal more than I expected but also the Baden-Baden with Meier and Salminen.

Posted on 24 Feb 2014 10:31:30 GMT
Ultrarunner says:
Another Ring I forgot about, is the Copenhagen Ring, with Johnson, Stig Anderson , Randi Stene and Theorin. This cycle contains the best Die Walkure available. However,I was also hoping the Chereau would be be placed on Bluray. It has a a huge following.Cheers T.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Feb 2014 15:21:25 GMT
Goodness - do I purchase this Parsifal or not, I wonder. After this discussion I am beginning to think not! I'll have to think long and hard. I have no issues with modern productions, in fact I've sat through many traditional ones that don't work too - so, perhaps I'll give it a go and add my voice to this. I have to confess that the clips I've seen don't look too promising, but the proof of the pudding (so they say) is in the watching. An interesting discussion forum, though, gentlemen - so thank you for that.
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