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At last - a great recording of "Parsifal" comes to DVD
on 29 July 2007
Until now, I haven't felt that there was a recommendable "Parsifal" available on DVD. Nagano's version from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden is visually inane and musically uninspiring, while Levine's Metropolitan Opera version is safely traditional but unexpectedly dull.
Here is a version recorded live at the Bayreuth Festival in 1981. I've been very pleased to find that this is, with some caveats, an outstanding version of the opera.
In Act 1, the character of Gurnemanz is of critical importance since it is his role to explain the background of Kundry, Amfortas, Titurel, Klingsor and the spear to the audience. Fortunately Hans Sotin as Gurnemanz and conductor Horst Stein bring every facet of the story to life. I've heard Stein's conducting in this performance described as pedestrian. Not so. The orchestral response is thrilling in the Transformation Music, and the singing of the Grail Knights in the following section is magnificent.
As for Siegfried Jerusalem, this performance finds him, aged 41, fairly near the beginning of his operatic career (he was a bassoonist until the age of 35). Nevertheless, it seems he was already an excellent Parsifal, and this recording allows him to shine more than the Levine DVD from 1992. Matti Salminen is towering (and unmistakable) as Titurel, and Bernd Weikl conveys all of Amfortas's pain and anguish.
I didn't think that Act 2 was quite as successful, largely on account of Eva Randova's Kundry. I found her voice unduly shrill. For me that detracted from the latter half of the act where Kundry's role is so important. On the positive side, Stein is impressive in the chromatic music representing Klingsor's kingdom, and he brings a sense of eroticism to the Flower Maidens' music that harks back to "Tristan".
Things are back on track in Act 3. A particular highlight is the Good Friday music, which is given a performance of enormous power and beauty. I've never heard it sound so moving, despite owning the 1951 Knappertsbusch recording of "Parsifal" and the orchestral-only performances by Jochum and Furtwängler. The end of the opera is radiant. One almost is almost disappointed by the lack of applause on the DVD.
Wolfgang Wagner's staging seem quite traditional to me: a leafy forest glade for Act 1, a vaulting chamber for the castle. The 1981 video transfer is clear. As so often, the video direction is by Brian Large. The sound is generally excellent, although the volume does not always seem consistent between acts.
In summary, despite the problem I have with Act 2, I feel that this is a great recording of "Parsifal". I'd recommend it without hesitation.