Wagner says farewell to Romantic love?

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 8 March 2013 | 3:56:00 pm

A review of the MET Parsifal from the perspective of a second time audience member - and relative newcomer to opera: the Telegraph's Sameer Rahim.

Many of Wagner’s operas are driven by rebellious sexual passion. In his first mature work, Der fliegende Holländer (1843), Senta’s ballad to the wandering ghost pulses with obsession. In Tristan and Isolde (1859), the title characters defy moral and musical conventions in pursuit of erotic nirvana. Some of the most ravishing music in the Ring Cycle comes inDie Walküre (1870), when brother and sister Siegmund and Sieglinde fall in love. I’ve also noticed, though, that Wagner has sympathy for characters who reject dangerous passion: the cuckolded King Marke inTristan; Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger; in the Ring, the betrayed Fricka and even Alberich only renounces love after he's piqued by the Rhinemaidens.

Wagner's enrapturing romantic music runs the risk of being stifling – even narcissistic. So I find it fascinating that in his final opera, Wagner turns his obsession on its head: in Parsifal (1880) sexual passion must be confronted and surpassed – and thus transfigured into a universal compassionate love.

On Saturday I saw Parsifal for the second time at a live cinema screening from New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. The first time I saw it, at ENO two years ago, I came away moved by the music but puzzled by what it all meant. Now, with a bit more Wagner under my belt, it became (at least in part) a bit clearer.

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