My Year of Opera: Parsifal

One of the main reasons I undertook this “year of opera” project was to expose myself to a ton of rep and develop a sense of what my tastes are as a budding opera composer. I had seen several operas live, many on video, but I wanted to give this year to a more concentrated exposure to the genre. It isn’t that I was totally void on opera experience before this year it is just that, as an instrumentalist and composer, it turned out my exposure to opera was rather skewed.

Wagner doesn’t really work for me. I get why it works for some but it doesn’t work for me. Much the same way that baseball works for some but not for me. I can watch it and, in the abstract, understand why people like that sort of thing much the same way that a carnivore could look at my vegetarian eating habits in the abstract. Yes, they see my family and I not eating meat and, when they come to visit they can mildly tolerate not having meat for, maybe, a meal or two. That is Wagner for me.

I think Wagner, and the stereotypes he creates, are why most people avoid opera. The Wagner I’ve seen (Dutchman, Tannhauser, most of the Ring, Parsifal) is basically: someone is standing in place telling you a story. A long story. There are no good “hooks,” as the kids say, in the arias. If there IS action in the actual opera, 90% of the time someone onstage is telling you about what it is. The opening of Act I of Parsifal has a great description of the witch lady flying in to that first scene. The music is frenetic and intense and the description being said by the dude singing is rather exciting. Parsifal talks about all the opponents he had to slay in order to reach the flower maidens but we never get to, you know, SEE any of the action.

Musically, I have a dead spot for late Romanticism. Again, I understand why people like it but it ain’t for me. I think Parsifal would work well if I played it in the background or if I went and saw it in person. Having it on DVD (this was the DG release with Sigfried Jerusalem) but it in this middle zone where I could be easily distracted by the life around me. Maybe total submersion is the key to this. I was hoping to see the Met HD broadcast of Parsifal but couldn’t make it work. After all, I went to Les Troyens at the start of this year expecting to dislike it (but going to see it anyway because – why not?) and was rather surprised at how much I liked it. Maybe in a different setting, I’d like Parsifal too.

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