N.B. The March 2 edition of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera begins at 12 p.m., 1 p.m. AT, 1:30 p.m. NT).

It's a big year for Wagner, as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth. We start a celebration of a birth with an ending of sorts: Parsifal was Wagner's last opera, and it's the Met's first Wagner radio broadcast of 2013.

Parsifal is a controversial opera. Some love it, some despise it. Opera expert Denis Forman (author of The Good Opera Guide and former deputy chairman of London's Royal Opera) describes Parsifal in the book as "a bit of a pill."

I could write this blog post about its initial reception alone. Mahler loved it. Mark Twain, wasn't much of a fan.

And Nietzsche famously broke off his relationship with Wagner as he found the ideas in the opera so repugnant. And yet, regarding the the music, he asked, "has Wagner done anything better?"

Wagner thought the work was brilliant (he was not known for his modesty), and declared two things: that the work only be performed at Bayreuth, and that no applause follow Act 1.

For a while, everyone went along with Wagner's conditions. But in 1903, the Metropolitan Opera in New York broke ranks and staged the opera. The New York Times wrote, "It was one of the most important and significant musical events that Americans have been concerned with."

Despite lots of enthusiasm, Parsifal hasn't aged all that well. Hitler was a big fan, and promised to have the copyright returned to Bayreuth. His enthusiasm for the work probably hasn't helped its reputation.

And in 1975, another Holy Grail work came out: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While not directed at the opera itself, still, some of Wagner's plot points can't help remind you of this comedic classic.

So the Met mounts a brand new Parsifal. And taking up the challenge of directing it is the Canadian, François Girard.

In a New York Times article he said, “It’s reputed to be undirectable.... and now, after five years of working on Parsifal, I can lecture students in theatre schools on why it’s the impossible piece.” 

Girard's Parsifal is set in a land of climate change. And it's not for the squeamish: rivers of blood course through the set. Here's both a visual and musical preview:

Here's a complete cast list:

Jonas Kaufmann: Parsifal
Peter Mattei: Amfortas
Katarina Dalayman: Kundry
Evgeny Nikitin: Klingsor
René Pape: Gurnemanz

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Daniele Gatti, conductor

You can find a synopsis on the Met website.


Parsifal from Bayreuth 2012

Wagner 200 presented by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle

How to get tickets to Bayreuth (good luck, you'll need it!)

Wagner 2013: useful tips for surviving the bicentenary

Bayreuth, Wagner and anti-semitism: a timeline


posted by Matthew McFarlane on Feb 27, 2013