Top critical review
Truly bad production and conducting, saved by Kaufmann and Pape
on 9 December 2015
The first part of this review was my comment on Bloomberg's site after seeing the live stream in a movie theater and reading the glowing review there.
In short, this production is best to avoid. My comments are on the singing and conducting, so I will add my thoughts on the production after.
It may be that I have been used to too many great performances of the past, especially by Hans Knappertsbusch, but Gatti was really dull on Saturday last. I found the cast to be excellent except for Peter Mattei. His acting was good, but the singing acting wasn't. He sounded so angry when singing words that weren't that of anger. It was of only suffering and anguish. I kept wanting to listen to the great interpretations of George London who really made me feel the pain and anguish of Amfortas. Mattei just bantered on with his anger. Back to Gatti. There were several times that I knew the great music that was coming and really wanted to be exalted by it, but I never was, even during Kaufmann's fantastic "Amfortas, die Wunde". Kaufmann and Pape were truly great but was supported very dully by Gatti and the orchestra. Coming back to Kna' performances, e.g. his 1962 from Bayreuth, what comes from the orchestra is really gold at all times, so exciting and you can feel the momentum. We never feel like looking at our watches. I did that several times during this performance. The conducting isn't as dull as Levine's, but still it is boring. I love the opera when done properly and it is such a pity since the cast was so strong.
On to the production. It seems like the Met has taken the "Eurotrash" production standard to heart with this production. It makes me long for the great production on the Levine production on DVD (and I don't care at all for Levine's boring conducting). The extreme use of blood in the second act was very excessive and in poor taste. I almost feel sorry for Kaufmann, having to endure this crappy production. I don't understand why the productions nowadays have to be in a way that doesn't make sense at all. I love going to the opera when the productions are well done. Several years ago I went to Vienna State Opera with my parents to attend La Boheme and they used a Franco Zefferelli production and it was glorious. The same goes when I went to La Scala to attend a performance of Il barbiere de Sevilla with Florez and Di Donato. What I saw there was a production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and it was glorious from beginning to end. The sets complemented the opera and make it a very enjoyable experience.
Granted Parsifal is not La Boheme or Il barbiere de Sevilla, but the need for a production that makes sense so the opera performance is enjoyable and not something you have to figure out the meaning of while you're seeing it is extremely important. Now I am always looking at pictures of a production when looking at opera performances to attend to avoid what looks like bad productions (e.g. seeing La Boheme in a cancer ward, which actually is being produced, would only make it depressing.)
I had only paid 300 NOK (around 50 USD at the time) to see it in the movie theater, but I would be very dissatisfied if I had to pay 200 dollars to attend it at the Met.