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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Based on the one of the Holy Grail legends, the four-hour opera follow Parsifal, a "holy fool", raised by his mother in a forest because she wants him to escape the fate of his warrior father who was killed in battle. When he shoots a swan with a bow and arrow he made himself, he is taken to the castle of Montserat. Here he meets the king Amfortas, surrounded by the Knights of the Holy Grail. The king suffers from a wound that will never heal inflicted by a spear, said to be the one that impaled Christ. He is being punished for succumbing to lust for the beautiful immortal Kundry who was sent to seduce him by the evil sorcerer Klingsor.
The Grail Ritual is painfully performed by Amfortas. Parcifal doesn't understand what is happening and asks no questions. Gurnemanze, the oldest knight, angrily drives him out. In the following two acts, Parsifal visits the enchanted castle of Klingsor, a failed Grail Knight who was expelled from the Order and wants the Grail for himself. He sends a troupe of exquisite witches to seduce Parsifal but they are no more successful than Kundry. Parsifal, "the pure and gentle perfect night" in Mallory's "Morte d'Arthur" clasps the spear and, after years of painful wandering, returns to Montserat and heals the wounded king, before replacing him as King.
Unlike more passionate Parsifal productions, there's no touching in this one. It's tell, not show. Parsifal is surrounded by witches in long filmy garments but he sings about them as if they were part of a dream. The text describes a kiss given him by Kundry which is implied, not personified. Nonetheless, Wilson's vision is a gripping one. The sweep of the veil descending from Kundry's headdress across the floor, the tension generated by the slow Noh movements of the cast, give the production a feeling of imminence. It builds. The legend itself is almost peripheral to the mystery of spiritual intensity. If the King betrays himself and deviates from the path of single-minded devotion he has chosen, he is wounded for life. Only a healing touch from an unspoiled man who has also suffered will bring him peace.
Conductor Kent Nagano's fiery direction is the life between the lines of Wilson's austere vision and measured pace. Placido Domingo has never been in better voice. One only regrets that Parsifal is a smaller part than Gurnemanz or Kundry. The international cast includes American soprano Linda Watson who plays Kundry with brooding power and the great Finnish basso Matti Salminen who recreates his acclaimed interpretation of Gurnemanz. German bass-baritone Albert Dohmen brings immense dignity to Amfortas and Hartmut Welker, a noted interpreter of Wagnerian roles, plays Klingsor. His musicality and thwarted slyly wicked interpretation overcome his wonderful costume, a high-collared cape reminiscent of nasty magicians in 1940s comic books.
This rarely-performed opera makes an unforgettable centerpiece in the program General Director Placido Domingo has assembled for the Los Angeles Opera's 20th Anniversary Season.
Leonard Maltin's 2006 Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
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