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Friday, 25 February 2011

Wagner's Parsifal at The ENO

It’s not often Wagner comes to town, and I don’t mean the over-excitable X-Factor contestant. Richard Wagner set his own rules when composing, a freedom of expression that can be seen most in his epic operas. Their length and scoring requires a massive cast and orchestra with set and costumes to match. Wagner wrote all his own libretti and creates mythical kingdoms that are weird, wonderful and crazy - his works are unique. It is a great undertaking for a creative team to stage one of his magical music dramas; they must be ready to match his imagination and spirit, strength and character.

The ENO are currently reviving Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production of Parsifal which was critically commended back in 1999, with the Independent describing it as ‘the most intelligent, provocative and ultimately moving production’. This February most of the original creative team are back for the return show.

The surreal and stagnant landscape is designed by Raimund Bauer and daring costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer. As is normal with Wagner’s creations the story of Parsifal is completely incomprehensible and quite frankly a bit ridiculous. There is a lot of faffing about on stage, complicated background details and bizarre characters that seem to have no relevance to the plot. The opera is his final one and is written in three acts. The narrative is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's ‘Parzival’, a 13th century poem that tells of an Arthurian knight and his quest for the Holy Grail.

I felt honoured to be seeing great Wagnerian singer John Tomlinson who can boast performing for eighteen consecutive seasons at Bayreuth Festival from 1988. He plays Gurnemanz, the trusty chronicler of the Grail’s history. When I saw the opera, Tomlinson was everything I hoped he would be: powerful and yet gracious, he commands the stage unlike any singer I have ever seen before. The rest of the cast are vocally sublime too; Stuart Skelton as the title role shows real compassion and stamina throughout the five hour piece and Jane Dutton as Kundry is dramatic and convincing. I adored the flower chorus dancing and singing, the women dressed in unbelievable draped costumes and lit so wonderfully, it was quite mesmerising to watch.

No-one can deny the beauty of Wagner’s music in Parsifal. In particular I love the opening interlude and the euphoric finale. The orchestra are quite breathtaking, and are conducted magnificently by Mark Wigglesworth, who energises the score and injects the performance with real understanding and passion. In my seat in the front row of the dress circle I felt I was soaring with the music and being drawn into Wagner’s mysterious world. I found the whole evening uttering compelling and was completely engrossed by the amazing atmosphere the ENO created for the occasion.

Parsifal continues at The ENO until Saturday 12 March, book here.


  1. Great write up. Do you think it would have been better in the original language (which is sometimes the case with ENO operas?)

  2. My husband is a huge opera fan. I've bookmarked this post so he can read it. We have a small opera company here in town, so even though we are in the middle of nowhere, we still have 3 or 4 better than amateur performances a year. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary