Climbing Toward Midnight

CLIMBING TOWARD MIDNIGHT (2012) (70 minutes)


Chamber opera after Parsifal in three acts

first performances by Sydney Chamber Opera, April 15- 20, Parade Theatres, Sydney

The Australian review

Sydney Morning Herald review

Bachtrack review

Link to Showreel

Kundry (soprano): Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon
Kundry (dancer): Maya Gavish
Parsifal: Mitchell Riley
Director: Netta Yashchin
Set/Costume Design: Jessica O’Neill
Lighting Design: Ross Graham
Ensemble: James Wannan, Mee Na Lojewski, Peter Smith, Jack Symonds

2013 is the bicentenary of Richard Wagner’s birth, and Australian composer Jack Symonds, in collaboration with Sydney Chamber Opera, wrote a new stage work taking arguably Wagner’s most controversial opera, Parsifal, as its basis.

Parsifal itself has only been fully staged once in Australia (Adelaide, 2001) and is perhaps somewhat of a mysterious entity to many Australian audiences. The transcendent qualities of Wagner’s music are primarily what has kept this work at the pinnacle of the international operatic repertoire though its reception is still problematic. Its highly personal presentation of Christian morality and seemingly obsessive focus on blood purity have sometimes been received with suspicion, bordering on revulsion ever since its premiere in 1882.

The new work aims to focus instead on the relationship between its two central characters, Parsifal and Kundry, who partake in an extraordinary and original love scene in the second act of Wagner’s opera.

The text for the new work is drawn largely from Wagner’s own in Act II of Parsifal, and is shorn of references to other characters in the drama, or directly to Christianity. As such, the focus is drastically altered to become a modern parable of obsession, desperation and twisted redemption in an aborted romantic relationship between two ill-matched people.

Fragments from poetry by the great German Expressionist poet Georg Trakl are woven into the Wagner to highlight the alienated and forward-looking qualities of Wagner’s conception of Parsifal and Kundry’s relationship. Sullied redemption, guilt, sacrilege and sexual transgression are dealt with in strikingly similar ways by both Wagner and Trakl. The title- Climbing Toward Midnight- is drawn from the latter.

This new work is not an arrangement or pastiche of Wagner’s music. Rather, it is a re-imagining of Wagnerian processes and practices for the twenty-first century, as well as a reinterpretation of the modernist leanings of his words. Symonds’ immediately previous stage work, Nunc dimittis (premiered November 2011) similarly re-imagined the musical implications of a particularly existential Bach cantata to critical acclaim.

The piece is scored for just two singers and four instruments (piano, viola, cello and bass clarinet- a ‘dark’ Quartet for the End of Time) and aims for an intimacy and intensity to throw new light on the difficult and strangely modern relationship between Kundry and Parsifal. Its 70 minutes divide Wagner’s text into three acts focussing on Parsifal’s guilt, Kundry’s tortured past and Parsifal’s rejection of Kundry respectively.

The Expressionist miniature form is developed into heightened connective tissue through which Wagner’s monumental, symphonic conception of music drama and the concerns of the intervening 130 years of music can meet and combine to explore the terrifying implications of this single tragic relationship.

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