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Parsifal review at Royal Opera House London

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Director Stephen Langridge gave the Royal Opera a major success with the world premiere production of Birtwistle’s The Minotaur in 2008. Wagner’s final opera proves a tougher nut for him to crack.

Working with designer Alison Chitty, Langridge visualises a broadly contemporary community of grail knights, though one whose purpose remains unclear: at the end of the first act, a group of them leaves on what looks like a terrorist mission – most have pistols, one a bomb in a bag. Perhaps referencing a line in Wagner’s libretto when Parsifal himself asks the question ‘Who is the grail’, the grail itself – traditionally imagined as the cup out of which Christ drank at the Last Supper – is here a youth, whose blood is used in for some semi-mystical purpose when his stomach is cut with a knife. He returns, appropriately older, in the third act, yet disappears at the close, when Parsifal supposedly revitalises the dying community; instead it seems to continue to fall apart. There’s something unsatisfying about Langridge’s handling of the whole dramatic scheme, while the designs feel reductive.

Several of the individual performances nevertheless rise to considerable heights, especially Gerald Finley’s tense, expressive Amfortas, Rene Pape’s richly lyrical Gurnemanz and Angela Denoke’s strained but compelling Kundry. Willard W White is once again a Klingsor to reckon with. (The character’s self-castration, presented by a double, is one of several moments when plot information is presented in tableau.) Robert Lloyd makes a dignified Titurel, but Simon O’Neill is an awkward exponent of the title role. Antonio Pappano’s conducting is clear in texture, even if its sense of momentum is somewhat erratic.

Production Information

Royal Opera House, London, November 30-December 18

Richard Wagner
Stephen Langridge
Antonio Pappano
Royal Opera
Simon O’Neill, Rene Pape, Angela Denoke, Gerald Finley, Willard W White, Robert Lloyd
Running time
5hrs 40mins

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