Magazine article The Spectator

Trusting in Wagner

Magazine article The Spectator

Trusting in Wagner

Article excerpt

Scottish Opera's new production of Parsifal the first ever north of the border, undertaken and carried through magnificently in the face of gruelling discouragements, is not only a testimony to determination, but an invaluable contribution to the understanding of Wagner's most puzzling but profound work. Unlike the deplorable ENO production of last year, this one investigates Wagner's meanings rather than setting out to undermine or (if I knew what the word meant) deconstruct them. There is no disharmony between stage action and text and music, on the contrary, they illuminate one another in a way that shows a rare contemporary trust in Wagner's capacities as a dramatist.

Unfortunately, there is one major respect in which this is not accurate: the first hint of Nature, and the last, to appear in this production comes in Act 111, with a tree suspended upside down over the stage, frosted for the first 40 minutes, golden for the Good Friday Music; and a pool among the paving stones. That is not enough. The director/designer, Silviu Purcarete, seems to have taken his cue from Nietzsche's claim that Wagner's characters 'are all five steps from the hospital', indeed to agree with him so enthusiastically that he has actually put them inside one for the opening scene, with the squires and knights lying on austere beds, and Amfortas being wheeled on on a trolley by orderlies.

Act II takes place in a bordello, the chief Flower Maidens reclining before lighted mirrors, Klingsor, in long black coat, as a quite vile master of the proceedings; he even tries an embrace with the madam, Kundry, but of course can't get anything going. Since so much is so wonderful, I don't want to make a fuss, except to say that Nature in its heating or decaying aspects seems to me omnipresent in the first part of both the outer acts.

The need for healing is located, in this account, with hideous precision and intensity in the portrayal of Amfortas, acted and sung unnervingly by Matthew Best, all told the most striking interpreter - or incarnation - of the role I have ever witnessed. Yet, like every other aspect of the musical side of this production, the effects were achieved by focus rather than volume. The whole bent of the singing and the orchestral playing was intimate, lyrical, indeed the most lyrical since Kempe in the 1950s. …

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