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A Quest for the Ultimate Holy Grail in Lyric Opera’s new production of PARSIFAL

Parsifal designer Johan Engels enlisted artist Andy Zakszeski-Marr to reinterpret one of the most recognizable vessels known to man: the Holy Grail. Andy recently answered some of Lyric Opera’s questions about his collaboration with Engels, and how the piece came together for the stage.


Parsifal, Act 3. Todd Rosenberg Photography

Everyone’s heard of the Holy Grail. Entwined in Arthurian literature and Christianity, the Grail has been a source of inspiration across the ages for poets, authors, artists, composers, and screenplay writers alike. Richard Wagner’s Parsifal is no exception. As a central component in this epic masterpiece, creating the iconic symbol for Lyric Opera’s new production was no small task. 

Parsifal designer Johan Engels enlisted artist Andy Zakszeski-Marr to reinterpret one of the most recognizable vessels known to man. Andy recently answered some of Lyric Opera’s questions about his collaboration with Engels, and how the piece came together for the stage. View photo gallery.

LO: Did Johan indicate what he was looking for or did he give you carte blanche to create?

AZM: Johan told me he wanted a non-traditional Grail, and I was very excited. Making the traditional chalice would not have been as much fun and I believe it would have limited the directions in which I could go. This “drinking vessel” type Grail allowed me to be very free with shape and form. Other than knowing the dimensions Johan wanted and the incorporating of gold and metallic into the glazing, he really gave me full rein to express myself as an artist with this piece. When we met to discuss the vessels and direction of the Grail he showed me the set and costume renderings and I was immediately captivated. 

LO: What inspired the various designs that you created for the Grail?

AZM: As an artist I connect with more organic shapes and textures instead of things that are too contrived or manufactured looking. In all of my Grail designs I focused on nature, water, and the earth. Since Johan indicated that he would like several pieces to choose from it really gave me the ability to experiment with different looks. 

LO: It must have been challenging as an artist to have to create a piece that is THE central component for another artist's work. Were you nervous? 

AZM: Johan saw my work and immediately entrusted me with the project. But I was very nervous right up until the selection meeting. I was really not sure if Johan would like any of them. ‘Surely there will be one he likes,’ I kept thinking. Johan’s reaction to all of the Grails was overwhelmingly good. I was very relieved and very proud. 

LO: Were you surprised that Johan chose the piece that he did? 

AZM: Yes! There were others that I thought he might pick over the one he did ultimately choose. I thought that he would choose one of the Grails that had great glazing color – blues and greens on the outside and gold inside. But I completely understand now why he chose the one he did and I believe that the unique texture on the outside of that Grail reads magnificently from everywhere in the house. 

LO: The "chosen" Grail is beautiful—simple and yet nuanced in texture, glaze, shape, etc. How did you achieve that affect?

AZM: Thank you! I began all of the Grails with a hand-rolled slab of white stoneware approximately 3/8 of an inch thick. The texture is applied to the flat slab which is then placed on a variety of handmade forms to slowly dry. I remember making this Grail using branches to texture the outside and immediately thought it looked like roots. I just knew that the texture would be fantastic once glazed. When that Grail came out of the bisque kiln (the initial firing before glaze fire), I picked it up and knew it would be a final contender based on how good it felt in my hands. 

LO: That sounds like a lot of work! How many hours did you put into creating this?

AZM: The slab work, trimming, sculpting, and glazing of that Grail took about 3 hours. The amount of time the Grail was actually in the kiln for bisque firing and final glaze firing was approximately 38 hours.

LO: After all this work, what were your thoughts when the Grail appeared onstage during opening night?

AZM: It was an amazingly surreal moment for me. I was overwhelmed with emotion. Creating the Grails and being involved in this process with Johan has been a fantastic experience. I’m  grateful for the opportunity to work with a world-class designer like him. As I watched the Grail on stage I thought about its journey along with my own as an artist. I especially was thinking about those around me who inspire me and support me. There was also a little voice inside me saying, ‘I hope Parsifal doesn’t drop it!’

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In the spirit of holiday giving

If you're searching for the perfect holiday gift this season, Lyric has ideas for you!

Holiday Giving

If you're searching for perfect, unique gifts for the music lovers in your life, Lyric Opera has ideas for you! From friends and family to clients and colleagues, you may just create lifelong memories with one of our performances or gifts below.

Unforgettable operatic moments

2014 starts with the sparkling comedy Die Fledermaus and Puccini's masterpiece Madama Butterfly. "Fiiiiiiiigaro" will be on stage in February's The Barber of Seville, with the mystical fairytale Rusalka and Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito in March.

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SPECIAL PERFORMANCES

 
  
Lyric Opera Family Barber

Renée Fleming & Jonas Kaufmann 
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 7:30pm

Two of the most electrifying singers of our time combine their artistry for one memorable evening. Learn More.

 Lyric Opera Family Barber

Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 2pm 

Our fun-filled 60-minute introduction to the world of opera for young children and their families. Recommended for ages 5-10. Learn More.

   
Lyric Opera Itzhak Perlman 
Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 2pm

A thrilling opportunity to hear the reigning virtuoso of the violin in recital. Learn more

  Lyric Opera Sound of Music

April 25-May 11, 2014

This beloved family favorite comes to Lyric Opera in a grand-scale new production next spring! Learn more.

 
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An Insider's Guide to DIE FLEDERMAUS

Video and audio previews, articles, and more at Lyric's Insider's Guide to Die Fledermaus.

Watch the Die Fledermaus trailer (above).

Watch a preview with general director Anthony Freud, music director Sir Andrew Davis, and creative consultant Renée Fleming (above). 

Read the plot synopsis.

Building a Better Maus Trap
by Eric Myers
When Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Die Fledermaus received its premiere in Vienna 140 years ago, it was hardly a failure, but it was not an instant success, either. Its popularity grew slowly over the years as productions made their way from one country to the next, steadily gaining momentum. Now it holds pride of place as the world’s best-loved and most frequently staged operetta. Nearly a century and a half old, this party is still going strong. READ MORE.

 

 

 
LIFE'S A BALL
High style and comedy in 3/4 time

Learn about J. Strauss, Jr.'s Die Fledermaus in an article by Magda Krance.

Die Fledermaus Discovery Series

Extreme flirting, lots of champagne and the music of Johann Strauss, Jr. Die Fledermaus is one of the greatest of all operettas. Bo Skovhus (Eisenstein), Juliane Banse (Rosalinde), Daniela Fally (Adele), director E. Loren Meeker, and conductor Ward Stare engage in a lively conversation on the ever-popular work.

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Die Fledermaus Commentary

Die Fledermaus
by Johann Strauss, Jr.

© 2013/14 Lyric Opera Commentaries 

Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by Mark Travis, Producer.

 

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Die Fledermaus Audio Preview

Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

 

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An Insider's Guide to LA TRAVIATA

An Insider's Guide to La Traviata: videos, audio previews, articles, and more.

Watch the La Traviata trailer (above). 

Watch a preview discussion with Anthony Freud, Sir Andrew Davis, and Renée Fleming (above). 


Read the plot synopsis.

Traviata

 

Verdi's Violetta: Revealing a Heroine's Soul

Learn about Violetta, heroine of La Traviata, in an article by Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines.


A Conversation with the Director

Arin Arbus, who debuts at Lyric Opera with La Traviata, spoke during spring 2013 with the company’s manager of media relations, Magda Krance. (Edited by Lyric dramaturg Roger Pines)

Click here to read the interview. 

 Arin Arbus

Illustrations: Costume sketches by Cait O'Connor 


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La Traviata Audio Preview

Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

 

La Traviata Discovery Series

A tale of a courtesan with a heart of gold and a young man from a proper family, who are forced to deal with a very cruel world. Marina Rebeka (Violetta), Joseph Calleja (Alfredo), and Quinn Kelsey (Germont) join conductor Massimo Zanetti and director Arin Arbus to discuss this Verdi masterpiece.

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La Traviata Commentary

La Traviata
by Giuseppe Verdi

© 2013/14 Lyric Opera Commentaries 

Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics. All rights reserved. Post-production services provided by Mark Travis, Producer.

 

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