Parsifal - Made Simple(r)
I have, to be honest, been delaying listening to the five or so hours of Parsifal in my years long odyssey through Wagner's operas. I'm sure many Wagnerians drooled at the thought of its themes of knights, magic and whatnot. And its heavenly length will be snapped up by the score readers and students of the art of singing. I know its his final opera and the culmination of 25 years work, but I measure these things out slowly as a Bear of Little Brain. I listen more often once the ideas - musical and dramatic are in my head - but I come to the operas for the first time at my own pace. I have been putting Parsifal off though - until today.
I have a few days off work and so I thought now was a time to start what I've been putting off, an Act per day.
Fortunately the days of the gramophone with LPs that need side changes or even CDs that need changing, and a small print libretto in the box, are over. An Act or an entire opera can be taken at one sitting. Live opera is for many ideal - I find it a little overwhelming (and often marred by grim singing). DVD and CD offer a great deal so opera can be enjoyed a variety of ways.
So this time I took a different tack - and I should add broadband costs aside, it hasn't cost me a penny.
First to ease the eye/ear avalanche I chose a concert performance given in Dec 2010 in Amsterdam. The opera is broken down into acts and on YouTube here
The conductor is Jaap van Zweden - he is a marvel of calm concentration to watch in the orchestral segments. The singers half act their parts, remaining stationary on the cramped Concertgebouw stage but not acting with each other. I like this version in particular because it is not overly polished in any aspect except the music making - which is, so far, intense and ravishing, dramatic and unmannered. Wagner's last opera may be something of a monster - but he truly does turn time into space - but the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra play - like many radio orchestras - with great technical assurance and delicacy. The singers are very fine too.
In previous years (well, decades to be honest) I've tackled the difficult bit of hearing a Wagner operas for the first time in a number of ways - Meistersinger - laying a bathroom floor, Gotterdammerung a long bus journey and Tristan und Isolde - hmmm - I was so traumatised by it I can't remember...
Reading the words is sometimes enough - though CD boxes being the size they are one gets a smaller font than most with a Wagner opera set. But nowadays I can do better than that.
Tonight, I followed the first act on my iPad (as I watched on my laptop) with a libretto here This libretto helpfully comes with a central column between the German and the English which is marked with pop-ups of the various themes Wganer uses (v helpful - more so than the full score for first timers like me) AND is replete with stage instructions. Just enough detail to animate the still figures on the concert platform in my minds eye.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow: Act 2 of Parsfal (only an hour!)