While the curtain is sporting hues of red (the Blood of Christ?) and incorporating an ever-widening mouth (no prizes for thinking temptation here), the glorious Prelude to Act I of ‘Parsifal’ steals in to stem the audience’s hubbub. Transporting and spacious, it is played with luminous beauty – the silences are significant and the agony and ecstasy of the music and the story are well underlined. Clearly, for conductor Antonio Pappano, Wagner’s final opera (termed by the composer as a 'Bühnenweihfestspiel', a Stage Consecration Festival Play) is a deep labour of love for him. Certainly, the five-hour-plus evening was very moving.
Director Stephen Langridge (son of the late tenor, Philip) follows a clear-cut course in delineating characters and their circumstances – a hospital bed and a wheelchair, for example. There is also a powerful sense of ritual and, in the final act, renewal. What is less convincing is Alison Chitty’s clinical designs that look more apt for 'Wozzeck' than for 'Parsifal', save in Act II – dramatic, seductive and beguiling by turns – when Paul Pyant’s always excellent lighting turns pink and the eponymous character ('the pure fool') is entertained by earthly pleasures.
In a slow-burn opera, succession, enlightenment and compassion are the orders of the day, the symbols of spears and open wounds paramount; musically it’s all about soliloquies and exchanges, the former moving, the latter powerfully compelling. Of the singers, René Pape (as Gurnemanz, a senior of the Grail community) is outstanding in his magnificent voice and commanding portrayal, and Gerald Finley acts well as the weak leader Amfortas. The always-good Robert Lloyd, gives his character Titurel weight and distinction. Angela Denoke makes a feisty yet touching Kundry, while Simon O’Neill takes a while to warm to Parsifal’s task, but becomes more heroic the more he sings, in keeping with his character’s experience. There is also a magnificent choral contribution, particularly from the men. Colin Anderson