Written by Richard Wagner
A visual feast of religious fervor and mystical enchantment
|Lyric Opera of Chicago presents|
Review by Katy Walsh
A nearly five hour opera may frighten potential audience members away. That would be a shame because Parsifal is electrifying! It is described as a ‘festival music-drama‘ – not an opera. This categorization fits, though the music is the lead in Parsifal. Creating both the music and libretto, Richard Wagner masterfully weaves through his story with lengthy musical interludes. The ebullient Sir Andrew Davis deftly conducts the orchestra; the music a combination of religious fervor and mystical enchantment.
Wagner’s story is about the well-known Holy Grail and the lesser-known Holy Spear. (The Spear pierced the side of Christ at the Crucifixion). The safe-guarding of these holy relics is the task of the pure of heart. Wagner’s elaborate tale combines sorcery and morality for an unforgettable quest. As with all Wagner’s operas, reading the synopsis before the performance enhances the enjoyment. In the Parsifal program, before the Act 1 synopsis is an entire section dedicated to ‘before the opera begins.‘ Wagner’s backstory launches the labyrinth-style quest.
From the overture, the music and scenery captivate. On stage, we see an image that looks like a tranquil pool projected on a screen. As the music flows over us, we observe the circle rippling out. The expansion is a mesmerizing visual that then turns stunning as we see this is actually the floor of the forest. Set and Costume Designer Johan Engels, along with Lighting Designer Duane Schuler, provide mega visual treats. It’s five hours of delectable eye candy. Trees rising from the floor. Swans flying through the air. Horses galloping across the stage. The pageantry is non-stop astonishing.
Act II, in particular, starts with a modern neon-lit castle. The fierce Tómas Tómasson (Klingsor) is elevated on a pedestal tower. Tommasson is commanding not only in presence but vocally as well. His scene is majestic. Then, his flowermaidens try to woo the beguiling Paul Groves (Parsifal). The chorus of ladies are draped in tie-dyed pastels. Turbans are on their heads and their sleeves have extra flowing material. Four of them have oversized, butterfly-like wings. Choreographer Tim Claydon has the maidens gracefully move in a poetic sea of color. It’s a fluid spectacle!
Among the magical offerings of Parsifal is the sorceress herself. Daveda Karanas (Kundry) arrives in a show-stopping moment. Her steed, played by multiple dancers, delivers her into the forest. The illusion is breathtaking. Karanas dismounts, rolls down the stage and starts singing. The breathtaking moment becomes gasp-worthy. Throughout the show, Karanas continues to spellbind with her impressive singing and acting.
Parsifal is a huge commitment that comes with a huge reward. As much as audience members may murmur their discomfort at the marathon, we all jumped to our feet in unison at the spectacular accomplishment of this production. It was marveling!
Parsifal continues through November 29th at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map). Tickets are $34-$244, and are available by phone (312-322-2244) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at LyricOpera.org. (Running time: 4 hours 45 minutes, which includes two intermissions)
Paul Groves (Parsifal), Daveda Karanas (Kundry), Tómas Tómasson (Klingsor), Thomas Hampson (Armfortas), Kwangchul Youn (Gurnemanz), Rúni Brattaberg (Titurel), Angela Mannino (1st Esquire, Flowermaiden), J’nai Bridges (2nd Esquire, Flowermaiden), Matthew DiBattista (3rd Esquire), Adam Bonanni (4th Esquire), John Irvin (1st Knight), Richard Ollarsaba (2nd Knight), Yvette Smith (A Voice from Above), Kiri Deonarine, Emily Birsan, Tracy Cantin, Laura Wilde (Flowermaidens),
behind the scenes
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), John Caird (director), Johan Engels (set design, costume design), Duane Schuler (lighting design), Michael Black (chorus master), Tim Claydon (choreographer), Francis Rizzo (English supertitles), Dan Rest, Robert Kusel, Todd Rosenberg (photos)