29 October 2016

Parsifal by Elemental Opera

Despite going to several operas a year for many years I had seen little Wagner and had never seen Parsifal before so there was never any question of going to see a local production be Elemental Opera.

I learned about it via the Fulham Opera in one of those "from our friends" things on one of their emailings which just goes to show that cross-promotions do work.

The local venue was St Michael and All Angels church in Turnham Green, literally across the road from the Tabard theatre and pub. A chance to get inside the church, a landmark in the famous Bedford Park, was another reason for wanting to go.

The only drawback, and it was an obvious one, was that Parsifal lasts for four hours and with two intervals that made the production just over five hours long. There was a risk that it could be something of a battle of endurance but that I was a risk that I was prepared to take. I also took a cushion in case the pews were not up to the job.

I skimmed the synopsis of Parsifal beforehand and took in just enough to know that the main theme has something to do with the Holy Spear/Grail and there was not much of a story. That was fine with me as I was content just to listen to the music and the singing without understanding anything of it very much.

The construction of Parsifal was much like Tristan und Isolde, and probably other Wagner operas, that I don't know in that the music almost seemed to be one piece and while the mood and the tempo changed there were few, if any, well defined arias. In structure it was something like a classic Yes track that filled one side of an LP with one song in several sections, some of them with words. Only Wager was not constrained by the physical size of vinyl albums and his pieces were much longer.

This was music to immerse yourself in and to experience, not to hum to yourself afterwards. The lasting memory is not of tunes but of grand moods created by those tunes. It was a very different experience from, say, your average Mozart opera, and I enjoyed that experience for different reasons.

The singing was well up to the task and my favourite character was Amfortas, ruler of the Grail kingdom. Hi voice was wonderful and he acted every inch the aged king.

What could have been a test of endurance proved to be a good evening of music and singing. It certainly encouraged me to try and see some more Wagner sometime and, hopefully, Parsifal again in a proper opera house.

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