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Opéra Bastille - from 24 May to 12 June 2022
5h10 with 2 intervals
Language : German
Surtitle : French / English
Opening night : 24 May 2022
In few words:
As of the prelude of Parsifal something magical takes place: a musical score with a sacred dimension, infused with esotericism and Buddhist and Christian references to convey a universal message, albeit a cryptic one. How are we to understand a work that we cross like a “forest of symbols”? Drawing on the legend of Percival and the Holy Grail as inspiration for his final opera, Wagner completes his reflexion on the struggle between good and evil and sows the seeds of the virtues of compassion and renunciation. Values which Richard Jones explores by confronting the moral rigour of a dogmatic community with the obscurantism of a deviant scientific ideology. Two worlds opposed to each other in every way other than an irrepressible attraction for illusions.
Amfortas: Priest and guardian of the Grail
Titurel: Amfortas’ father, founder of the community of the Knights of the Grail
Gurnemanz: Ageing knight of the Grail
Parsifal: Young man free from all sin
Klingsor: A malevolent knight, excluded from the community, and a magician
Kundry: Ambiguous character, sometimes serving Klingsor, sometimes serving the knights
Flower-girls: Malevolent women created by Klingsor
- First part 100 mn
- Intermission 45 mn
- Second part 65 mn
- Intermission 30 mn
- Third part 70 mn
AmfortasBrian Mulligan24, 28, 31 May and 6, 9, 12 June
AmfortasMarkus Marquardt3 June
Erster GralsritterNeal Cooper
Zweiter GralsritterWilliam Thomas
Vier KnappenTamara Banjesevic
Vier KnappenMarie-Andrée Bouchard-Lesieur
Vier KnappenTobias Westman
Vier KnappenMaciej Kwaśnikowski
Klingsors ZaubermädchenTamara Banjesevic
Klingsors ZaubermädchenMarie-Andrée Bouchard-Lesieur
Klingsors ZaubermädchenRamya Roy
Klingsors ZaubermädchenKseniia Proshina
Klingsors ZaubermädchenAndrea Cueva Molnar
Klingsors ZaubermädchenClaudia Huckle
Eine Altstimme aus der HöheClaudia Huckle
Simone Young’s ample and sublime orchestral direction immerses the listener in the intelligence of this daring vision of Wagner’s Bühnenweihfestspiel.ResMusica - Jean-Luc Clairet
The choirs, prepared by Ching-Lien Wu, are remarkable and rich in nuances, from the suavity of the flower girls to the ample choirs of the knights.Première Loge - Patrice Gay
Led by Australian conductor Simone Young, the orchestra of the Paris Opera is here at its best, as well as the choirs.Causeur - Julien San Frax
Parsifal (saison 21/22) - Acte 1 Chœurs (Ver Guter Tat Sich Freut)
Parsifal (saison 21/22) - Acte 2 Falk Struckmann (Klingsor - Ho Ihr Wächter)
Parsifal (saison 21/22) - Acte 2 Filles Fleurs Et Chœurs (Komm Komm Holder Knabe)
Parsifal (saison 21/22) - Acte 2 Marina Prudenskaya (Ihr Kindenschen Buhlen)
The sets of Parsifal
“Who is the Grail?”
Breaking the Rules
© Christophe Pelé / OnP
The sets of Parsifal
An encounter with Jean-Philippe Morillon and Stéphane Parain
Parsifal, directed by Richard Jones, entered the Paris Opera repertoire in 2018. Several elements of the set represent the character of Titurel, Amfortas' father and founder of the community of the Knights of the Grail. For the revival of this production, Octave magazine meets Jean-Philippe Morillon, head of the painting workshop, who created the fresco of Titurel, and Stéphane Parain, sculptor, who created his bust. They go back over the design stages of both elements.
How did you first learn about the fresco and bust project for the production of Parsifal?
Jean-Philippe Morillon: " At the creation of Parsifal, in 2017, we learned about the project of a fresco inspired by the biblical Last Supper from the artistic director of the workshops, José Sciuto. Sometimes we work directly with the scenographer, but for Parsifal this was not the case."
Stéphane Parrain: "In the sculpture workshop, it was also José Sciuto who first presented the project to us. The then head of the department, Angelika Potier, gave us more detailed information. I was immediately excited about the project because it was a question of portraying the performer of Titurel, a very exciting task."
A large-scale project starts with a model. Tell us about this preparatory work.
J-P. M.: "To create the model, we worked from various documents provided by Ultz, the set designer. He sent us photos of a fesco entitled "Pilgrim's progress" painted in a church in Eastbourne in the south of England, by Hans Feibusch, a German artist in the 1950s. Interpreting a set designer's request when he or she is not present is never easy because you have to put together several, sometimes contradictory elements. We knew that Ultz wanted us to revisit the Last Supper. He asked for a composition, very "down to earth, around a banquet, with chairs set out, and with characters positioned in a circle around the table contrasted but this idea contrasted with Feibusch's very etheral composition. Nevertheless, he wanted us to use pastel pink tones like in Hans Feibusch's pictures.
From there, we made three trial models to try to find the best response to his expectations. As the models evolved, we gradually became aware of the difficulties. For example, we had to find the right colour schemes, bearing in mind the constraint that the characters had to have blue shirts and green embroidered chasubles.
This research is carried out in teams because dialogue is essential. For these three models, I worked with Gisèle Rateau and Thierry Desserprit, who has since retired. We each prepared a proposal for a model. I remember very well the day we showed the three models to Ultz, we were anxious. After a moment of silence, he said "it's great, it's very clever", we were relieved. We had worked hard on this project. Out of the three proposals, he chose Gisèle's."
S. P.: "Like Jean-Philippe, the scenographer first sent us a photo of a bust of Kennedy, because he thought he bore a certain resemblance to the singer, but also to show us roughly what shape the final bust should have, its style and its era. It wasn't a classical bust in Louis XIV-style but, rather, something contemporary, from the sixties or seventies. I had to place the singer's face on this foundation. It's always enjoyable to do a portrait because there's a lot of research into the facial features. It's an exercise in sculpture that has existed since the origin of the discipline, which goes back to antiquity. We sometimes have few indications from the scenographer. There are always a lot of questions. We never really know what we should or shouldn't keep from the photo he has sent us. What seems obvious to him is not obvious to us. I remember that on this photo, the sculpture had a very bumpy, rough aspect, you could sense that it had been sculpted with tools. The finish was gold leaf, so I decided to go for a smooth look instead and that was exactly what he wanted. This requires us to make proposals and then establish a dialogue to get as close as possible to the set designer's vision."
So you were personally in charge of creating these set elements. What were the design stages?
J-P. M.: "I created the fresco using acrylic paint. We started working on this project a few months before the premiere. The panels were already prepared and painted pink by subcontractors. The coordination between subcontracting and installation left us little time, and we had to finish the fresco at night, which is exceptional.
We painted it vertically, along the walls of the workshop. Usually, this is done on the floor, in the Italian style, which means that you walk on it. For Parsifal, it was an intermediate format, between easel painting and large format.
We always start by painting the less precise elements, like the sky. Then we focus on the characters. It's a real team effort, we talk to each other a lot.
For the colours of the palette, we made choices inspired by the costumes. We found a green that resembled that of the performers' chasubles. These colours are the result of the director's choice, who wanted to give this rather sectarian and communitarian aspect to the knights and to their religion."
S. P.: "For the bust, once the clay model was completed, we made a silicone mould. This mould allows us to make plaster casts, which are more solid and resistant than clay. From this plaster we were able to make an enlargement, with the method of squaring up. For the bust, the model was only fifty centimetres high. So we multiplied it by six so that the final bust was three metres high. We use polystyrene for projects of this size, which has the advantage of being very light and easily sculpted.
Once sanded down as much as possible, the piece is sent to the composites workshop where it is laminated. Like for a boat, that produces a hard and resistant shell. Finally the painters apply a finishing coat and gold leaf.
I worked alone on this bust, but we always ask for our colleagues' opinions because it's important to have an outside viewpoint to offer us new perspectives and point out elements that need to be accentuated or softened. Depending on the size of the projects, we adapt the size of the teams, in particular by calling upon intermittent sculptors
I didn't meet the singer who served as our model. I worked from a few photos from various periods, which was a challenge to reproduce his portrait faithfully."
You are both very attached to your workshops because it is there that all your creations are born. How do you feel when your creations arrive on stage?
J-P. M.: " In Bastille, we are lucky to have a magnificent workshop in which we are able to make things carefully. Our work is extremely precise in terms of colour research. It is important that we can see the final work on the set because light and perspective can sometimes reveal aspects of the canvas that we did not perceive in the studio. "
S. P.: "Our studio is like a personal exhibition space. The sculptures have their own existence there. It's not like on stage where sometimes you only see them for a few minutes. Our relationship with time differs because in the studio we see them for longer. When we see them on stage, the vision is more global, we realise that our achievements are part of a larger whole."
Understand the plot in 1 minute
© Ruth Walz / OnP
“Who is the Grail?”
“Who is the Grail?”
Based on the medieval novel by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parsifal was created in 1882, only a few months before Richard Wagner's death, and was the composer's last opera. Of all Wagner's works, Parsifal is undoubtedly the most enigmatic: the opera offers a wealth of interpretations as dense as the vast forests of Arthurian legends. On the occasion of the revival of Richard Jones' production, created at the Opéra Bastille in 2018, Octave looks back at the various Parsifals that have been staged at the Paris Opéra.
Wagner did not want Parsifal to be seen as entertainment, any more than he wanted applause to interrupt the performances at his sacred operatic festival in Bayreuth: he forbade its performance anywhere but on the Green Hill. Cosima continued to respect the will of the Maestro for twenty years after his death and had no hesitation in banning disobedient singers from Bayreuth. It was not until 1914, therefore, that Parsifal entered the repertoire of the Paris Opera. In a stroke of irony, this opera about compassion and universal redemption was first performed at the Palais Garnier the very same year that Europe prepared to plunge into the Great War – seven months before the assassination of Jean Jaurès who was present on the opening night. André Messager, then director of the Paris Opera, conducted the work in a production by Paul Stuart. This French production immediately provoked one of those controversies that the critics of the day were so fond of: was it right to wrench this contemplative work away from its Sacred Hill to perform it in a Palais Garnier so close to the grand boulevards? But the polemic was quickly swept aside by the stunned reaction provoked by Wagner’s music: audiences were enraptured, fascinated by leitmotifs whose meaning appears limpid but which elude our understanding just as the significance of the Grail eludes the hero… “One must hear Parsifal, one must listen and watch and let oneself be swept up by the ineffable emotion”, wrote Gabriel Fauré in Le Figaro.
In spite of its success, from 1935 onwards, the work suffered a long eclipse. When it reappeared on the bill in 1954 it was for a tour with Stuttgart Opera. In 1973, for the first year of his mandate at the head of the Paris Opera, Rolf Liebermann entrusted the direction of Parsifal to August Everding, a German director who had taken over from him as director of Hamburg Opera. Meanwhile, in 1951, Wieland Wagner, had inaugurated a new era at the Bayreuth Festival with a legendary Parsifal that swept away the past. With regard to the revolution taking place in Bayreuth, the new production at the Paris Opera adopted an aesthetic in muted tones and although the director claimed to have broken with the austere scenography of the Wagnerian festival, notably through the presentation of a flower-girl tableau redolent of the 1900s, - “Anti-Bayreuth? Why not?” – he was nevertheless inspired by Wieland Wagner’s analysis, abandoning a mystical interpretation in favour of a psychoanalytical reading (Parsifal’s quest thus becomes the pursuit of a synthesis between the masculinity of the Holy Spear and the femininity of the Grail). Revivals of this production succeeded each other up until 1976 and provided an opportunity to hear Jon Vickers (Parsifal), Régine Crespin (Kundry) and Kurt Moll (Gurnemanz).
From 1997, the stage of the Palais Garnier became too small to accommodate the celebration of the cult of the Grail: Parsifal made its entry at Bastille conducted by Armin Jordan with Thomas Moser, Kathryn Harries and Jan-Hendrik Rootering… Hugues Gall entrusted the direction to the English director, Graham Vick. This production with its sober sets, featuring angels with rainbow wings, was also the first Parisian Parsifal with Placido Domingo and Thomas Hampson’s first Amfortas. In 2008, Gerard Mortier entrusted the Polish director, Krzsztof Warlikowski, with the creation of a new Parsifal which brought together Christopher Ventris, Waltraud Meier and Franz Josef Selig. The production bore the stigmata of the 20th century and was haunted by the child in Rossellini’s film, Germany Year Zero: his suicide in the ruins of Berlin was projected as a prelude to Act III. During the final scene however, a family circle constituted by a Kundry miraculously restored, Parsifal and the child celebrated a Grail now more human than mystical – hinting at the possibility of reconstruction after the catastrophe…
Ten years later, under the mandate of Stéphane Lissner, the Parisian audience rediscovered the work in a new production of Richard Jones directed by Philippe Jordan. Andreas Schager, Peter Mattei, Günther Groissböck and Anja Kampe respectively perform Parsifal, Amfortas, Gurnemanz and Kundry in a sectarian universe that is reminiscent of Scientology.
© Eléna Bauer / OnP
Breaking the Rules
Interview with the director of Parsifal
Through the knights of the Grail, Parsifal questions the idea of community. How do you imagine this community?
The opera is constructed around a powerful opposition between two universes: that of the knights of the Grail and that of Klingsor the magician…
Your reading of Parsifal also questions the place of science fiction in our contemporary myths…
© Vincent Pontet / OnP
"Dance! Sing! 7 minutes at the Paris Opera" - by France Musique