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February 2013

A New Parsifal at the Met

Metropolitan Opera, Parsifal

"Parsifal escapes all attempts at simplification or reduction." —François Girard

Hard to believe, but it's been 10 years since Richard Wagner's Parsifal was last seen in New York, in a Met production by Otto Schenk that featured the age-defying Placido Domingo in the title role, Jessye Norman as the sorceress Kundry, and James Levine conducting. I saw that Parsifal three times over its 12-year run, and can recall being completely mesmerized—even though I can't say I remember anything in particular about it. The experience was like being put into a trance, one in which you emerged not really understanding what had just happened, but knowing full well you weren't the same person who'd entered the theater six hours earlier.

I attended the premiere of the Met's new production of Parsifal—actually, a co-production with the Lyon Opera and Canadian Opera Company—a week ago Friday. In contrast to the Met's new Ring, which has polarized audiences with its innovative (if uneven) staging, this new production of Wagner's final opera seems to hit on all cylinders: from casting, to conception and musical direction.  

On its surface, Parsifal portrays a medieval group of knights who are in posession of the Holy Grail: the cup that Christ drank from during the Last Supper. The Grail has magical powers, giving the knights strength and keeping them young, but only so long as they keep their vow of chastity. The knights also once posessed the Holy Spear—the lance that pierced Christ's side on the cross—but lost it when Amfortas, the leader of the knights, was seduced by a mysterious woman (later found out to be Kundry). His rival, Klingsor, stole the spear and stabbed him with it, leaving a wound that refuses to heal. (A full synopsis is here.) 

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van cliburn, broadway
"Music is such a part of life. It’s like breathing, like nourishment. And the classics are so important, because within the realm of classical music you have eternity and infinity, and mathematics and architecture, and spirituality and wonderment—so many things.” Van Cliburn, 2008
Go here to read my post on the 50th anniversary of Cliburn's victory at the first Tchiakovsky International Piano Competition. Tommasini's Times obit here.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper at Knitting Factory

by Craig Brinker


A trio of Brooklyn bands all currently signed to Ba Da Bing Records came together at Knitting Factory on Saturday night to celebrate the release of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's newest LP, Ripley Pine.

There's been a trend in some sectors of indie music towards a more orchestral sound, full of violins, woodwinds, and pitched percussion, with artists like Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens leading the vanguard of this movement. Brooklyn's own Cuddle Magic incorporated a subset of this genre, complete with a saxophone, glockenspiel, trumpet, and the obligatory three-part harmonies. While technically proficient and well rehearsed, the group suffered from a malady that plagues many bands of their ilk: the low-energy live show. One could attempt to point to classical training as the source of this problem, but I've certainly seen many classical concerts with more arresting performances.

Xenia Rubinos was a much more engaging performer, with a set full of lively, danceable tunes. Her R&B-tinged songs are mostly a vehicle for her powerful voice, accompanied by sparse arrangements relying solely on keyboards, drums, and the occasional sample or loop.  While her project shows a lot of potential, a larger array of musicians might help to broaden her scope of textures and fill the many dead spots encountered throughout her set.

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