LONDON (Reuters) - Director Stephen Langridge knows MTV video clips tend to have mass appeal and Wagner operas do not, but he thinks anyone can be moved by his new production of “Parsifal”, opening at London’s Covent Garden on Saturday night.
In the second act, New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill as Wagner’s “pure fool” of the title must resist the seductive lures of German soprano Angela Denoke’s witch and temptress Kundry. She wraps herself around him and pleads that uniting with her for just one hour “would raise you to a godhead”.
It’s a classic - and sexy - confrontation between good and evil which Langridge, a believer in “music theatre”, says gets an extra charge from some of Wagner’s most magnificent music.
“Anybody who comes to see ‘Parsifal’ is in for a powerful journey which will shake up all sorts of emotions and corners of their subconscious, almost without their knowing it,” he told Reuters during a rehearsal for this last Wagner production by the Royal Opera in the composer’s birthday bicentenary year.
“It’s the absolute antithesis of MTV, where you are battered with fabulous imagery for three minutes - and which I kind of enjoy, actually,” he said.
“It explores some of the very raw areas which most of us experience in our lives ... It delves deep within us and I find it inescapable, and that’s not always comfortable.”
The up-and-coming Langridge, 50, son of the late British tenor Philip Langridge, is taking over this year as artistic director of the opera in Gothenburg, Sweden, which he calls his “first job”.
The production features Canadian tenor Gerald Finley as Amfortas, the Grail king who suffers from a never-healing wound inflicted when he fell prey to Kundry’s seductions.
German bass Rene Pape is the eldest Grail knight Gurnemanz, Jamaican-born bass Willard White is the sorcerer Klingsor, and the Royal Opera’s music director Antonio Pappano conducts.
Accessible as Langridge thinks the five-hour work is, he acknowledges that “Parsifal”, like Amfortas, comes with a “never-healing wound”.
Hitler loved the music as well as its message promoting racial purity and chastity in a totalitarian state.
The great (and eventually insane) German philosopher Nietzsche, who had sung Wagner’s praises, called the opera “a work of perfidy, of vindictiveness, of a secret attempt to poison the presuppositions of life - a bad work”.
It would have taken far longer than a rehearsal break for Langridge to rebut all the bad press “Parsifal” has received.
He settled, instead, for the argument the Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim makes to explain why he wants to perform the notoriously anti-Semitic Wagner’s music in Israel.
“Some people who liked the piece are people we disagree with profoundly, that’s true,” Langridge said. “But it’s a pity if we allow these people to control our listening so long after they were defeated.”
Besides, he said, there is much more to “Parsifal” than what he called “the pure-blood, militaristic Aryan nonsense”.
“There are other things there and they’re important, human things. I believe that the man (Wagner) had absurd ideas, but he wrote beyond himself - he must have done so because you couldn’t get the music down (on paper) as fast as he did, if you copy it out.
“He wasn’t sitting down and thinking, ‘How can I prove my stupid racial theories?’. He was absolutely beyond himself.”
Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Kevin Liffey