Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Opera by Richard Wagner
Directed by Stephen Langridge
Musical Direction by Antonio Pappano
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Presented by Palace Cinemas February 7, 8, 9 and 12

Review by Len Power 9 February 2014

‘Parsifal’ is loosely based on a 13th century epic poem about an Arthurian Knight and his quest for the Holy Grail.  Wagner took 25 years to write his opera and it did not premiere until 1882 at the second Bayreuth festival.  He described ‘Parsifal’ not as an opera, but as "A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage".  It was his final work.

This new Royal Opera House, Covent Garden production is set in an unidentified modern location which worked very well.  The stunning set by Alison Chitty gives the impression of a forest surrounding the scene and a light box enables changes to be made from a hospital room to memory flashbacks and other intimate scenes without holding up the action.  The production by Stephen Langridge is highly detailed and makes logical sense as it flows along beautifully with the music.

Photo by Clive Barda
Angela Denoke brings her difficult role of Kundry to life with an intense acting and singing performance that is just extraordinary.  Simon O’Neill sang the tenor role of Parsifal with great emotion, achieving the innocence required of this character and Rene Pape was an authoritative Gurnemanz.  Gerald Finley was compelling as Amfortas and Willard White was commanding as Klingsor.  As you would expect, these singers really are at the top of their game.  The large chorus also sang beautifully, creating a haunting atmosphere at times.

The huge orchestra, conducted by Antonio Pappano, produced a grand and exciting sound, subtly bringing out all the detail in this rich score.  The combination of music, acting and singing at the end of the third act was especially moving.

The presentation at the Palace Cinemas was excellent.  The image quality on the screen is bright and very sharp and the sound quality was crisp and clear.  Being able to see closeups of the individual singers at certain moments really helps your understanding of this opera.  That’s just not possible at a live performance unless you’re in the front row.

Wagner’s ‘Parsifal’ is a bit of a challenge for even the most fervent opera lover.  It’s an opera with five solid hours of music plus intervals and a plot without a lot of action.  So why do some people become obsessed by it, even travelling around the world to see productions of it?  After experiencing the sustained emotional high of that third act finale in a production where, for the first time, all the elements came together, I can now understand why people become obsessed with this opera.