Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Day before yesterday, I saw my first Wagner opera: Parsifal. I have seen (and even enjoyed) quite a few operas - you have to, if you live in Vienna, or else they kick you out, but I had shied away from Wagner, until now.

Grand Théâtre de Genève

The venue was the Grand Théâtre de Genève, and quite nice. It's not the Staatsoper in Vienna, but then again, no opera is the Staatsoper, except the Staatsoper.

During intermission

I was a bit anxious about it beforehand - Parsifal is nearly six hours long, and six hours of Wagner at that. But I was most pleasantly surprised, not only did I not fall asleep, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

The production was minimalist, with nearly no props, which led to the very amusing scene were Parsifal is brought before Gurnemanz for having slain a swan, a big no-no at Monsalvat, it being the resting place of the grail and all. Gurnemanz is supposed to confront Parsifal with the body of the swan, but in keeping with the minimalism of his production, director Roland Aeschlimann has Gurnemanz show a photo of the swan instead. From the ranks you can't really see whether it is photographic evidence, or just a photo of the swan Grunemanz happens to carry around with him. I, of course, chose to believe the latter, and dissolved into giggles imagining the relationship of Gurnemanz and his "unschuldiger Schwan". Ahem.

Another very weird thing was the stage setting in the hall of the grail. Here is a grainy photo of it (from the very end of the opera, Parsifal having returned the holy spear is just healing Amfortas):

If you want to find all the letters, you have to stir the blood a bit.

The thing in the back represents the holy grail, with the blood of Christ (sorry, the Redeemer, Wagner never mentions Christ in the opera) - and letter soup? It's the holy grail - it heals, it prolongs life, brings you salvation and it teaches you to read! Now, let's eat the A's first!

An efficient special effect was the semi-transparent curtain in front of the stage - lit by different lamps from various angles, it made for very effective simulations of fog, and nice fade-outs.

In the end, this has rekindled my interest in opera - I'll have to check out what's playing here in Lausanne!


  1. I like opera, though not adore it, with the possible exception of Mozart's operas. I've seen a number of them at the Houston Metropolitan Opera, but I can say I enjoy those by Mozart over any others I've seen by a sizable margin. It might be the preponderance of baritones (to which, I'm partial).

    I have never seen a Wagnerian opera.

  2. The thing I really like in operas is the glacial pace of the plot. There is not that much of it anyway, since it is mostly about the music. But then you get scenes like Parsifal 'rushing' in to heal Amfortas. He meets Gurnemanz, and tells him he is here to heal Amfortas, and that it is urgent. Gurnemanz agrees, one hour long. I timed it - for one hour they are going back and forth on how important it is to heal the king as quickly as possible. Makes a nice change to the music-video style of television shows!

  3. I must reluctantly pass on the 6-hour opera, I'm afraid. You are very determined. I do enjoy Tannhauser on CD, though, at least I enjoy the last 10 bars, so I am definitely not a Wagner hater by any means. Then again, I can turn off the CD anytime I choose (which I sometimes do to eat and sleep.)

    So you had a good time during that 6 hours, eh? I am impressed. My own record is 12 minutes of Joe Green's Aida. I think opera is an acquired taste that mostly only those with backgrounds in physics truly understand. Probably.

  4. I personally think it is socio-cultural indoctrination - like baseball for you guys.