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Wagner's final opera, 'Parsifal,' latest to be in movie theaters

Mar. 02, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

The Holy Grail, the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper, and the spear used to pierce the side of Christ at Crucifixion are prominent symbols in "Parsifal," libretto and music by Richard Wagner (1813-1883).

"Parsifal," Wagner's final opera (1882), is the Live in High Definition simulcast from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York today, March 2. Because the opera simulcast has an approximate running time of 5 hours and 40 minutes, it will begin at noon.

The outstanding vocal cast includes Wagnerian (large voices) luminaries of today's opera world. Munich native heldentenor Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role of Parsifal, the "innocent fool" who will find wisdom and bring redemption.

Dresden native bass Rene Pape will sing the role of Gurnemanz, a noble Knight of the Holy Grail and Swedish baritone Peter Mattei will sing the role of Amfortas, leader of the Knights, who suffers from an incurable spear wound.

The role of Kundry, cursed to be a seductress for laughing at Christ on the cross in a former life, will be sung by Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman. "The thing I like best about Kundry is that she is such a complicated character with a wide range of expressions both vocally and scenically." (Dalayman in Opera News).

Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin sings the role of the vengeful magician Klingson, who has now joined the dark side after being rejected as a Knight.

Wagner called "Parsifal" a "festival play for the consecration of a stage." It was premiered at Wagner's own theater in Bayreuth Bavaria, Germany. To blend text, music and action into one artistic whole was a lifelong goal of Wagner.

Do not expect a string of memorable melodies, but do expect wonderfully dramatic orchestral music played by the excellent musicians of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under the baton of Daniele Gatti. I dare you to count the number of times Wagner uses the "Dresden Amen." (Check your hymnbook.)

Anthony Tommasini in his review for the New York Times writes "the Met debut for French Canadian director Francois Girard presents Parsifal in a post-apocalyptic setting...two barren sun-baked dirt-gray mounds are divided by a river bed with just a trickle of flowing water, sometimes thick with blood."

Not for newbies, neophytes or the faint of heart because of the length, "Parsifal" also makes a lasting impression on the audience as well on cast members. My first experience with "Parsifal" was when as a freshman I was conscripted to be a Knight in a production in the Indiana University Auditorium on Palm Sunday. IU faculty members Charles Kullman, Ralph Appelman, Roy Samuelsen and Margaret Harshaw sang the major roles, Tibor Kozma conducted and Hans Busch was the stage director. We started in the afternoon, took a dinner break and finished the opera in the evening.

Wagner lovers in West Virginia can see the Met Live in HD simulcast of "Parsifal" at noon today, March 2, at the Cinemark Theater at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville; Regal Nitro Stadium 12; Hollywood Stadium 12 in Granville/Morgantown; and Greenbrier Valley theatre in Lewisburg, as well as Cinemark Theater in Ashland. The opera in three acts will be sung in German with English subtitles. Cinemark will show the encore performance at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 20.

Dr. Larry Stickler is professor of music at Marshall University.