Parsifal, ENO 1 March


Stuart Skelton as Parsifal

When Hayley told me she’d slept badly the previous night I suggested that a large dose of Wagner was just what she needed.  In fact, from our advantageous perch at the front of the Upper Circle she studied the workings of the orchestra with interest while I rested with my eyes closed.  When I did open them I was puzzled by the monochrome-Japanese-disused-quarry-1980s-science-fiction aspect of it all.

I thought that the second act promised sex, women’s voices, colour, more sex, magic tricks with spears…In fact it was equally monochrome.  Jane Dutton seemed overparted as Kundry–the thing about Parsifal blundering away and leaving Herzeleide to perish alone didn’t work for me at all–they’d decided to ignore the spear stopping in midair.

But in the third act the music was just too good and got me in the end, in spite of the stupid blasphemous parody of Christianity (entirely Wagner’s fault, not the production’s), the railtrack going from nowhere to nowhere and other brilliant ideas I was not brilliant enough to appreciate.

As many critics have pointed out, Sir John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz was highly effective as well as showing wear and wobble, while Stuart Skelton as Parsifal was really rather splendid–maybe a little more tenor ring needed, but otherwise excellent.  The conducting of Mark Wigglesworth was effective rather than profound, and also jolly loud towards the end (as Hayley pointed out).

The translation combined English matter-of-factness (so the pseudophilosophical pseudoprofundities never had a chance of seeming to mean anything) with an unEnglish wrenching of syntax.  But never mind.  We weren’t there for the words, or any sense…

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