Parsifal

Yannick Nézet-Séguin
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Date/Location
17 February 2018
Metropolitan Opera New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
AmfortasPeter Mattei
TiturelAlfred Walker
GurnemanzRené Pape
ParsifalKlaus Florian Vogt
KlingsorJewgeni Nikitin
KundryEvelyn Herlitzius
GralsritterMark Schowalter
Richard Bernstein
Gallery
New York Times

A Conductor Delivers a Magnificent ‘Parsifal’ at the Met

On Monday, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Metropolitan Opera’s music director designate, conducted a magnificent performance of Wagner’s “Parsifal.” This demonstration of his artistry and his ability to inspire the best from the company’s orchestra and chorus was a good sign of things to come.

It was also frustrating. Not until 2020, three seasons from now, will Mr. Nézet-Séguin become the music director full time. This seven-performance run of “Parsifal,” which ends on Feb. 27, and six performances of Strauss’s “Elektra” next month are his only engagements this season.

This teaser comes just as the company is in dire need of musical leadership. James Levine had already been mostly sidelined when he was suspended as music director emeritus in December over allegations of sexual harassment. The Met official in charge of artistic administration, Robert Rattray, died suddenly a little over a week ago.

Are all artistic matters now entirely in the hands of the general manager, Peter Gelb? This has long been the way Mr. Gelb conceived his role. But even regarding musical matters, how much input can Mr. Nézet-Séguin, whose substantial workload includes the directorship of the Philadelphia Orchestra, be having?

These questions hovered over Monday’s revival of François Girard’s bleakly poignant 2013 production, even as Mr. Nézet-Séguin brought his own strong take to this profound, challenging and very long score. (With two lengthy intermissions, the performance lasted nearly six hours.)

During the first sighing unison phrase of the prelude, the strings played with hushed yet penetrating tone, rising with a touch of hesitation and slowly swelling in sound and radiance, until the upper strings crested into delicate, lacy arpeggios. Mr. Nézet-Séguin took a daringly restrained tempo here. The prelude — and whole episodes of the opera proper — invite the listener into a spiritual realm where, as one character puts it, “time becomes space.” Mr. Nézet-Séguin conveyed that beautifully.

Yet when called for, he also brought out the urgency and incisiveness of the music. At the opening of Act II, set in the bewitched castle of the sorcerer Klingsor, Mr. Nézet-Séguin tore into the heaving music with searing fervor. I’ve never heard the passage sound so fraught and dangerous.

The tenor Jonas Kaufmann sang the title role when this production was new and set a high standard. Klaus Florian Vogt may have a lighter voice and lacks Mr. Kaufmann’s charisma. But on this night he was deeply affecting as Wagner’s clueless youth, who chances upon the sanctuary of the desolate knights of the Holy Grail and is baffled by their sacred rituals. (He sang the role to acclaim in a new production at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival in Germany in 2016.)

Mr. Vogt’s voice has youthful brightness. In climactic moments, his focused sound penetrated the orchestra with vigor. But while the knights await a “pure fool” who, it has been prophesied, will bring renewal to the brotherhood, sometimes Mr. Vogt played the fool a little too well. He seemed a little lost.

The bass René Pape may not have all the stentorian power he once did. But with his deep, dark and imposing voice, he again proved ideal as Gurnemanz, a veteran knight. And the way he links crisp enunciation of the words to vocal sounds and colorings remains a model for singers.

The baritone Peter Mattei was extraordinary as Amfortas, the suffering king of the grail knights, when this production was new, and was perhaps even more so on Monday. Amfortas suffers from a wound that will not heal, inflicted when he was lured into Klingsor’s realm; seduced by the mysterious, ageless Kundry; and stabbed with a sacred spear he had been entrusted to protect. Mr. Mattei brings such desperate fervor to his singing that you can believe in this Amfortas’s vulnerability. The character’s suffering and guilt were apparent in the anguished tone of Mr. Mattei’s singing and the wracked movements of body.

The slightly hard-edge sound of the soprano Evelyn Herlitzius, making her Met debut as Kundry, takes some getting used to. Her voice can wobble on sustained tones. But there was earthy intensity, even a kind of beautiful fragility, to her singing. And dramatically she drew out every elusive nuance of this confounding character.

Mr. Girard’s production retains its gloomy power. The costumes are modern: The knights wear white shirts and charcoal pants and go barefoot. Their “forest” has a post-apocalyptic bleakness. In a theatrical tour de force, the female demons who, at the command of Klingsor (the menacing bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin), become the flower maidens who try to seduce Parsifal in Act II, slosh around in a shallow pool of blood that drips from the walls and covers the stage. There are no traces of the meadows, or the woodland murmurs the libretto refers to. But the production counts as a high point of Mr. Gelb’s tenure to date.

Still, who is advising him on musical (and larger artistic) priorities? Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s full arrival, which this performance made me anticipate even more excitedly, seems a long way off.

ANTHONY TOMMASINI | FEB. 6, 2018

bachtrack.com

Suffering, transcendence, redemption: The Met’s Parsifal is a long trip, well worth it

The Met’s now-five-year-old production of Wagner’s Parsifal is a harrowing affair. There is neither a blade of grass nor a shrub for Act 1’s characters to touch or smell, just uneven expanses of gray/brown dirt separated by a fissure of water that turns blood red when Amfortas arrives. The Knights of the Grail are in dark suits that they shed down to their shirtsleeves; they sit barefoot on folding chairs in a circle. Gurnemanz is the same, indistinguishable from the others save for his pronouncements. François Girard’s production on Michael Levy’s sets is relentlessly bleak – there’s blood in the water in Act 1 and Act 2 features the wound lengthwise, as a full center backdrop, looking like a giant vagina. The Flowermaidens (without a flower in sight), in white nightgowns, carry spears and sway seductively; they, Kundry and Parsifal frolic, act and react in acres of blood. Amfortas’ wound made universal or the menstrual blood of women tricksters?

The final act looks even more depressed, with no life to be seen and what appear to be fresh graves. In a horrifying moment, Amfortas crawls pathetically into Titurel’s grave. Kundry opens the box containing the Grail and it is left open, for all to see. She dies cradled in Gurnemanz’s arms. There is forgiveness. In the opera’s final moments, Parsifal places the tip of the spear in the Grail cup – can we avoid the male-female imagery? The fissure is closed and wounds – not just Amfortas’ – are healed. Visually, throughout the evening, save for the swirling backdrops by Peter Flaherty (lava lamp-like effects, storm clouds, what may be close-up of part of a human body or a sand dune, a rising moon, a streak of white), there isn’t much. Movement is slow and self-consciously undramatic. It remains entrancing in its refusal to charm. Transformations are internal. Somehow, it’s beautiful. Perhaps like any metaphysical puzzle, this is not one that requires solving. Redemption isn’t always clear.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s leadership bodes very well for his upcoming tenure as music director. He leads the score as one long, long journey, everything happening for a purpose. The killing of the Swan does not destroy peace – Gurnemanz and the others seem to realize that Parsifal’s arrival augurs well, even if this bit of behavior appalls them. The brass – trumpets in particular – were having a difficult time at the opening but they were quickly forgiven: the sound and feel that Maesto Nézet-Séguin brought from the Met Orchestra was nothing but beauty. With no scenery to help, the Tranformation Scenes depended entirely on the orchestra to create imagery. The Flowermaidens’ scene, so often seeming like an overlong act at the Folies Bergère, was sheer loveliness, with a seductive sway. There was a dreamlike quality to the whole evening, as if the opera were happening above the stage; I believe the word is ethereal. Wagner wanted this opera to be like no other, and he succeeded.

The controversial cast members were the debutante Evelyn Herlitzius as Kundry and Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role. Ms Herlitzius’ sound is not plush. It has an edge at all registers, particularly at the top of the role. This disturbed some people. I’d say that they are overlooking a total performance (not unlike her Elektra from a few years ago at Aix, available on DVD), one in which the moaning, laughing, cajoling and seducing are all filled with self-rage and disgust, not to mention an underlying desire for something entirely different. It was brilliant, without falling easily on the ear. And Mr Vogt is a bright voiced Parsifal, not in the Kaufmann/Vickers mould. Wounded and confused, eventually accepting his burden with grace. His tone is beautiful – no wonder his Lohengrin is widely admired – and the sound is focused enough to ride through the big moments.

No issue can be had with the Gurnemanz of René Pape, who so thoroughly inhabits the role that his gait changes from the first to third act, and his sound is a bit more gruff and weary later on. The thrill in his voice is palpable when he realizes that Parsifal will, in fact, heal Amfortas, and with his uplift comes enormous relief in audience and orchestra. And again, what a grand, beautiful sound he makes. Peter Mattei’s Amfortas is a terrifying show-stopper. He crawls with difficulty, he prays, he rails, he rants. His suffering is almost unfathomable. The huge voiced Evgeny Nitikin is snarling and dangerous as Klingsor, and Alfred Walker’s Titurel is righteous and measured.

Never losing momentum, this performance of Parsifal, coming in at 4 hours and 18 minutes (the two intermissions scandalously equal 87 minutes), seemed exactly right. I suspect the other six performances will sell out. They certainly should.

Robert Levine | 06 Februar 2018

zealnyc.com

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin Steals the Show in Met Opera’s ‘Parsifal’ Revival

Tonight demonstrated that the Metropolitan Opera has made a brilliant choice, and perhaps the only real choice, in its replacement of James Levine. Levine, who conducted regularly at the Met after retiring from his monumental four-decades as music director but who was cut loose in December for sexual misconduct allegations dating to his early career, was arguably the most impactful music director to lead an opera house, anywhere, anytime.

Well the Met now has the young Yannick Nézet-Séguin taking the helm and I can only hope that he’ll hang on as long as did his predecessor. That because I would bet a lot of money that he will be just as successful.

Nézet-Séguin and the Metropolitan Opera orchestra stole the show tonight with a beautifully paced, languidly expansive and exquisite reading of Wagner’s Parsifal. In this orchestrally driven work, the work from conductor and musicians was sublime. Just like in the Levine years. The playing, across the pit, superb – tuning, ensemble, balance, tone. The brass performed magnificently despite tempos that you might hear in recording but rarely in a live performance.

Nézet-Séguin, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, and Met Opera audiences have some exciting years ahead.

And somewhat appropriately, the topic on this particularly successful night is redemption.

This supporting François Girard’s most interesting 2013 production. The director’s dilemma with much of Wagner’s work and certainly with Parsifal, is that there’s a lot of heady talk – feelings and such, and not much action.

Girard’s solution is clever, particularly so in Acts I and III. The ensemble slowly morphs from interesting vignette to beautiful vignette as a projected backdrop plays, often, in real time – brooding sky, rising moon, forms that could be sand dune or human body. The result (with set design by Michael Levine and projections by Peter Flaherty) is starkly visual, architectural, and captivating.

And onto this canvas, Girard places his cast, pulling from it some impressive scene work. Gripping is Amfortas (brilliantly by Peter Mattei) as he reluctantly reveals and raises the Holy Grail, for an agonizingly long period of time, against Girard’s carefully and richly choreographed backdrop in Act I.

The scene work in Act III among Gurnemanz (René Pape reprising and expanding his 2013 role), Kundry (Evelyn Herlitzius in her Met Oper debut) and Parsifal (Klaus Florian Vogt) is equally gripping. The action is slow. But these three play it small, relying on the beautiful decay (dry landscape pockmarked with graves) on which Girard has placed this act to sensibly and calmly establish tension.

Girard and his cast understand that less and more, and Girard has used the Met’s cavernous stage to demonstrate the isolation of one’s personal journey in staging that is as compelling as any choreography you’ll see on any ballet stage.

The topic of this piece is redemption and Parsifal is traditionally thought of as the Christian Wagner – the Lent opera. Rather dull.

Except that Parsifal is not that entirely, and this production works successfully to so demonstrate. Redemption can be grand. And redemption can be small. Parsifal is about journey and choice.

And that is life. More than a Christian opera, it’s a life opera. We all, metaphorically speaking, shoot swans in youth. We journey and we are tempted. We succumb. We abstain. Those that find peace, those that find grace are those that find some inward and external compassion – those that find compassion and serve.

Any religion, philosophy, self-help group or Upper West Side therapist will tell you so. “Serve…serve…” offers Kundry to Gurnemanz in Act III, as she seeks her own salvation.

Girard delicately pulls from Parsifal its universal truth.

Now there’s a lot of blood along the way. A lot of blood. Maybe a bit more blood than I’d like. But Girard’s insight into Parsifal is as clear as it is concrete.

Tonight’s cast is sound and often thrilling. 2013 production veterans include Mattei, Pape, and Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor, and all are as vocally brilliant as they are dramatically gripping. Newcomers to this production match veterans with acting chops of their own.

Herlitzius makes a riveting Metropolitan Opera debut. She is a solid dramatic artist and gifted with most everything you’d like vocally in a dramatic soprano – size, warmth and range. I would have loved to hear just a tad more attention to phrase endings tonight, but I am most happy to have heard this debut.

Evelyn Herlitzius in the Metropolitan Opera’s ‘Parsifal;’ photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Vogt, in the title role, is another thoughtful and engaging actor, and his journey tonight was long and satisfying – solid character work. His pleasing tenor is full and bright.

And thankfully at the helm is Mr. Nézet-Séguin, of whom much is anticipated and expected.

Mark McLaren | February 5, 2018

operawire.com

A Brilliant Cast Shines In Met’s Greatest Production Of Last Decade

The world is divided into men and women. And only the unification of these two sides, through mutual understanding and respect can bridge the gap and bring about a new world full of equality.

Sounds familiar right? It was what François Girard saw prior to 2013, and his vision remains ever true to this day. Perhaps even more prevalent.

It is this kind of vision and understanding of human nature that makes his “Parsifal” arguably the single greatest production to arrive at the Metropolitan Opera in the last 20 or so years. No joke.

And for the second straight time since the production opened in 2013, the company has put together a superstar cast that adds to the genius of the mis-en-scene.

Let’s dig in.

Prescient Vision

The lights go out and we are greeted with a curtain showcasing the Met auditorium, almost as if a mirror were being held up to the audience. Then the curtain rises and a sea of people, clad in black appear facing the audience. Among them is Parsifal. The group features both men and women, though they seem to be moving in different directions; only Parsifal looks lost as to where to go. The men remove their black clothing and ties, revealing white undergarments, emphasizing themselves as pure knights of the grail. Then they move stage left and form a circular configuration of chairs; the woman go in the opposite direction to a side separated by a fissure in the ground. This division dominates the work and portrays a divisive civilization, one in which men and women are at odds with one another. Given the current nature of our society, this opera could not be more revelant in this interpretation.

Throughout Act one, we get the ritual of the grail showcased amidst video a planet, clouds, deep space, and even hints of a human body that on closer inspection can look like the bread that Christ associates with his flesh. Or is it the sin of the world that is constantly mentioned in the opera? The voice of Titurel booms throughout the theater almost suggesting God. This portrayal takes on more prevalent meaning when Gurnemanz states in Act three that Titurel died “like any other man;” the subversion of God in a modern society.

The opera’s theme of male-female divison is embedded in its very structure. While Act one clearly belongs to the men, the second act is dominated by women and the final one, at least in this version, showcases a reconciliation. The second act sees the manipulation of the women from the opening act, which Girard has previously noted as “aspects” of Kundry, by the villainous Klingsor. He has them do his bidding, and its pretty sexual in nature. No doubt watching the man toss blood around from the inside of a female genitalia (that is where Act two takes place, right?) is rather uneasy to watch in the current social mileu. That Parsifal comes in and liberates everyone might strike some as wrong for a number of reasons, but Girard isn’t trying to destroy the opera’s text either. But he ultimately does make a brilliant move in the final act to lend it social relevance and acceptance.

Act three reverts to the opening set, but with the world in abrupt turmoil. Time has passed and the knights have disbanded, forced to eat whatever they can find. A burial is taking place and the rules and divisions established in the opening act are completely eroded. Only Kundry, the symbol of “sin” in the world, is unable to cross the gap.

Then Parsifal arrives in an incredible theatrical coup, his silhouette generating a sense of mystery. As he draws nearer, he comes into the light and becomes clearer. The man who was a mystery is now the redeemer of all. From there the work moves into pure sublime beauty, Gurnemanz and Kundry washing the feet and brow of the weary Parsifal as he is hailed King and leader of the knights. Then Parsifal proceeds to help Kundry cross the chasm and be absolved of sin.

And to clinch it all, Kundry is the one to open the grail, a move often left to the men. While she dies, her evolution throughout the production explores women being allowed to return to their rightful place – as equals of men. In the final image of the night, as Parsifal lifts up the chalice, the stage is littered with men and woman together. They wear similar clothing and the gap in the ground is barely recognizable. A new society begins with the inequality done away with.

But Girard isn’t even finished there because in the very final moment of the piece, with Parsifal lifting the chalice, two figures stand amidst the kneeled crowd. One is Amfortas, the former King whose sin caused the turmoil of the brotherhood. The other is a woman clad in black. There are a few people still porting the black, but most are clad in white. The woman stands out amidst this crowd. And with the curtain dropping, Parsifal turns and glances in her direction. It leaves the viewer with a lot of questions. Is this a new Kundry and is Parsifal to follow Amfortas’ path, resetting the cycle back? Or is this the sign of progress? Of a woman set to come and rule alongside Parsifal? It is a brilliant touch that avoids leaving this seemingly positive outlook filled with a tinge of ambiguity. Life isn’t so simple, afterall.

One final note – after seeing blood flow throughout the chasm in the opening act, the final imagery showcases water. Human’s open wound has been closed and the sacred fountain restored.

Return of the Titans

The cast is absolutely sensational in every respect. Four years ago, Peter Mattei and René Pape reigned supreme as Amfortas and Gurnemanz respectively.

On Monday, they were even better.

Mattei was an absolute scene stealer every single time he was onstage, his voice ringing out imperiously into the cavernous Met. It’s almost impossible to believe that he didn’t have a microphone, so gargantuan was the ring throughout the theater. It was heartbreaking to hear this glorious sound usher out one pained phrase after another and yet Mattei always sustained incredible sense of technical precision. He built up his monologue so beautifully, each phrase more tortured than the previous one that his cries of “Erbarmen! Erbarmen!” were sublime climaxes to it all. He had even greater desperation, but also a more tragic sense of loss in the third act, jumping into the tomb in the ground, his movements more erratic at times and yet his voice softer and more muted. But the moments where he is called upon to blast out in increased pain showed him even more potent and forceful vocally.

The same could be said for Pape, who was clarity embodied as Gurnemanz. The character’s main role is as the narrator of the opera and the emotional range is limited at best in the opening act. However, his gentle nature came through in the final act in his interactions with Parsifal, his gloriously rich bass sound at its finest. His physicality was also rather telling, Pape imbuing the character with a signature pacing movement throughout the opening act, only to show that same movement impaired and weaker in the final third of the opera. It added to the sense of Gurnemanz being somehow broken over the failures of the knights.

Evgeny Nikitin returned to the role of Klingsor and relished it. His voice was pointed, vicious and his movements were in direct contrast with everyone else onstage. He had no qualms about moving with snakelike precision. His scene with Evelyn Herlitzius’ Kundry is simply exquisite in how the two voices blasted sound at one another in visceral confrontation.

Ever Thrilling & Fascinating

Speaking of Herlitzius, the German soprano was making her North American and Metropolitan Opera debut. Her voice isn’t a pretty sound whatsoever. One could even define it as abrasive, with a sharp vibrato that wobbles a bit in the upper range. But one could never accuse her of being boring or uninteresting. In fact, she is the complete opposite. Her Kundry was completely unhinged from the start, her exaggerated laughs and moans always off-putting for the viewer, but adding to the interest. You always wanted to know what she was going for and where she was going with the character. And she showed some tremendous range. She was overpowered in her fight with Klingsor, even if vocally she gave it her all and put up quite the fight. In her seduction of Parsifal, she was alluring and sensual. But when rejected, she was the embodiment of “hell hath no fury as a woman scorned,” her singing blistering in its power and strength. It was endlessly thrilling to see her rise into the soprano stratosphere, even if it wasn’t always pretty.

Victory Through Compassion, Not Power

Speaking of pretty, let’s talk about Klaus Florian Vogt, whose interpretation was simply beautiful. To some his voice seems out of place in a Wagner opera. I’ve even heard of him as being a “pushed-up Tamino.” It might all be completely right and at the same time it doesn’t matter. When writing his operas, Wagner called for bel canto style singing in the vein of his beloved Bellini. We don’t usually get that from tenors, mainly because the heavy and thick voices we are accustomed to can’t quite carry lines in that manner or with that “bel canto” beauty. But Vogt’s does. Moreover, his voice carries tremendous weight that cuts through the orchestra quite splendidly. His “Amfortas! Die Wunde!” was a perfect example of this, the delicate timbre suddenly thick and potent. But the true beauty of a passage such as this one was the sense of expansion of the line, giving the passage true anguish and introspection. And because of the complexion of his voice, Vogt could add nuance and layers to his Parsifal as a true “innocent fool.” Whereas other heroic tenors can’t genuinely sound like an innocent or pure man, Vogt can and he used it to his full advantage. One such example was the climactic showdown with Klingsor where with his hand raised he stops the wizard in his tracks and utters, “Mit diesem Zeichen bann’ich deinen Zauber.” He could have taken the approach of belting out this power declaration of victory, but instead opted for gentleness. At the end of the opera, Parsifal wins and unites the world through compassion, not strength. And in his greatest moment of victory over evil, he wins not through brute force, but through this very same emotion. The choice by Vogt is potent and insightful all the same. He brings a similar vocal quality in his final scene, furthering the point of Parsifal’s victory coming through compassion and love and not the violence and might of such Wagnerian heroes as Siegfried or Tristan (ironically, these heroes ultimately find death after said victories).

Musical Introspection

It is often said that, in Schopenhauerian terms, Wagner’s music could be described as “the will” personified. But in “Parsifal,” one might be more inclined to say that the majority of the music is the “abnegation” of said will. Instead of incessant brooding and propulsive momentum, Wagner’s last score is gentle, subdued, and even ponderous. It doesn’t move anywhere all that quickly (except for Act two), more interested in living in the moment, as Gurnemanz notes, where time becomes space. And it seems that maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin approaches the score with this gentle nature in mind. His tempi tend to be broad, particularly when Wagner calls for lengthy pauses. You could feel the spacing throughout the prelude, the silences introspective and invitations to dig deeper. But what made his interpretation truly unique was the overall restraint you could feel. The entrance of the knights to close out the opening act did not emphasize the march-like nature that is often given grandiosity in other interpretations. Here it remained subdued, the transition more focused on the shift in mood. That isn’t to say that he wasn’t aggressive or didn’t push the Met Orchestra to its full voluminous potential. The music frayed and blistered powerfully throughout the second act as the tensions grew. But it all came back to the level of sublime tenderness in the final act, the final phrases simply divine.

There were a few orchestral misfires to be honest, with the brass section audibly uncomfortable and out of sync on some cues, but this is likely to improve with each passing performance.

So yes, this night was truly mesmerizing and for the second time in as many tries the Metropolitan Opera has a true winner with François Girard’s “Parsifal.” It is undeniably the finest Wagner production at the Met right now and the hope is that the director will come back and direct another production at such a high level. It also helps to have such an incredible cast in the ranks.

David Salazar | February 6, 2018

philly.com

Yannick’s ‘Parsifal’ at the Met gets a big bravo from picky New Yorkers

So far, Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been nothing but good news for the Metropolitan Opera, and they could use it considering the sexual-misconduct allegations that have sent Met conductor James Levine and now the stage director John Copley into exile.

On Monday, Nézet-Séguin opened a revival of Wagner’s Parsifal — an opera he has longed to conduct — and received a hero’s welcome from a public that has heard this opera conducted by the best, although this event wasn’t quite the Nézet-Séguin triumph that one could hope for. (It helps that he’s built up plenty of goodwill from past performances, held a fun and revelatory video-streamed master class at the Juilliard School recently, and continues his prestigious recording career with a new Deutsche Grammophon disc of Prokofiev violin concertos with Lisa Batiashvili and Chamber Orchestra of Europe).

Nézet-Séguin had a long-standing date with Parsifal — Wagner’s distilled, meditative last opera with its story of sin and redemption at the service of the Holy Grail.

The availability of singers who can handle five hours of Wagner is such that Parsifal can’t be as easily scheduled as a Brahms symphony. So having already conducted some earlier Wagner, Nézet-Séguin took on this opera on Monday in ways that assured that he was ready for the piece, which he conducted last year in Montreal.

His precise sense of color reminded you why he’s a Ravel specialist, though his usually purposeful pacing and grasp of the larger structure wasn’t always apparent. If the applause meters are to be taken seriously, baritone Peter Mattei received the most rapture. But Nézet-Séguin was right behind him, while other singers (even tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, whom I loved) seemed to inspire uncertainty. Whatever the case, the overall Parsifal package had much beauty to hear and nearly as much to see.

Though Parsifal is all about inner transformation — specifically of an innocent lad who is ordained to redeem a society of sin-wounded Holy Grail keepers — the Met’s atmospheric 2013 production by Francois Girard is more full of exterior weather imagery with twilight clouds and beautifully composed stage pictures. Knights of the Holy Grail are sometimes shown in silhouette, reminding you what an impact Wagner’s myth-steeped opera had on the symbolist movement.

The images have a level of abstraction that’s going to speak differently on any given day. The columns of vertical light in Act III reminded me of the commemorative 9/11 light-beam tribute in downtown Manhattan in one minute, and the twister from The Wizard of Oz in another moment. The much-publicized blood that sometimes soaks the stage floor can suggest wounds or redemption. Thus, one can have a surprisingly personal relationship with an opera whose mythology can feel remote.

In the title role, tenor Vogt aided that. The vulnerability of his light, boyish sound also invites you in, even if some opera-goers might prefer the more virile Jonas Kaufmann. The Vogt voice has plenty of spine (and never more so than in recent years), so he’s not going to be one of those short-shelf-life Wagnerians.

As the wounded leader Amfortas, Mattei projected agony backed by rich vocal color. The evil magician Klingsor can lapse into comic-book-gothic, but not with Evgeny Nikitin, who projected fallen-angel anguish. Rene Pape was vocally charismatic but interpretively dependable as the grail knight Gurnemanz.

The opera’s primary spell breakers (for me) included Evelyn Herlitzius (as the woman who leads virtuous knights astray): She clearly knows the psychological ins and outs of her character, but her loud, vibrato-ridden voice is barely able to manage much sense of lyricism. Also, the usually secure Met orchestra left a ding on the opera’s radiant landscape with dropped notes. Nézet-Séguin has said that circumstances can cause an opening performance to feel a bit like a dress rehearsal. So future audiences in this seven-performance run, through Feb. 27, are more likely to be consistently transported.

David Patrick Stearns | February 6, 2018

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Remarks
Matinee broadcast
A production by François Girard (2013)