on 14 February 2015
Until I first saw this production in 2013, I liked Knappertsbusch's and Solti's recordings best, but when I saw this, I was astonished. Jonas Kaufmann has an extraordinary voice and is one of the best operatic tenor singers. The other soloists are also amazing. The chorus and orchestra are wonderful and this is one of the best productions of this great, religious opera.
on 16 June 2014
Having read a number of negative reviews regarding this production I didn't purchase it, this was a big mistake on my behalf, but fortunately my wife included it as a surprise inclusion for my birthday package. I have now watched it through several times and to be honest, I don't get what some reviewers didn't like about the production. Parsifal isn't a swash-buckling, sparkling drama with show stopping arias - if that is what you are after, then you're in the wrong opera. This is a sublime music drama which has enthralled and mesmerised audiences from the moment of its composition and like the Ring, is a real life changing experience. I do believe that after witnessing a good production of this piece, you are never quite the same person again. You may scoff at my melodramatic allegories, but this is what Parsifal means to me - and I adore it.
The mix of religious symbolism totally works for me, after all isn't this how religions and religious orders evolved? There are things I wouldn't have done (the bed in a lake of blood in Klingsor's domain, for example), these are minor quibbles, however, because generally it well executed and visualised; and had me in tears as the final note fades. Incidentally, a small gripe here, why can't the Met audience wait until the music has faded away before applauding? Can you imagine that being tolerated in a German or British opera house?
Daniele Gatti's pacing isn't too slow for me, it is sublime; and the Metropolitan Opera Chorus are on superb form. One reviewer suggested that only two of the principals were up the mark, but I can't agree. I found them all excellent and totally committed. Rene Pape deserves special praise for his superb portrayal of Gurnemanz and I can see why audiences showered so much praise on Peter Mattei. Kundry too is well sung and portrayed by Katarina Dalayman - and while I am not as bowled over as some by Evgeny Nikitin's Klingsor, I can find nothing to critisise.
Then there is Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, what a wonderfully committed performance and what a fantastic singer - Parsifal could have been written for him. Whereas he is the superstar in this recording, he is also surrounded by a very strong cast, a very credible and thoughtful production and excellent conducting.
So, just in case you haven't guessed, I love this recording and if Parsifal's your piece, then I hope you do too. Reviewing is a subjective thing and there will be those that hate this realisation and some that love it - as the mixed bag of reviews indicate - I'm amongst the latter. To sum up in Parsifal's own words, "Oh supreme joy of this miracle!'
This is a beautifully sung and very tastefully staged production. The first act, in less masterful hands than Gatti's, can drag if a conductor and cast aren't up to the job, but the ensemble here is astonishingly good. It's the first time I can say I have been able to get how innovative Wagner's music is in Parsifal, even by Wagner's own standard.
I particularly love the Act 2 stage design, and Klingsor is suitably evil and mesmerising in the opening scene. I like the way Gatti just launches the orchestra into act 2 as soon as he comes into the orchestra pit and takes to the podium to enthusiastic applause.
I wonder how long it will be before one of the world’s major opera houses is brave enough to stage a totally “straight” version of Parsifal again? It seems to be more prone than just about any other opera (except maybe Tristan) to have indignities heaped upon it. The worst I have witnessed were a production in Stuttgart which had Parsifal and Titurel (yes, Titurel) running around naked, and one in Berlin where in the Act 1 “Mass” scene Amfortas pulled out his own liver which the knights then ate. So, compared to many productions I have seen, this one is mild indeed. Apart from the modern-dress costumes and the absence of scenery it’s pretty much as Wagner intended; there is, for example, a full complement of spears, grails and swans and no real “regie” concepts. Compared with a more hyperactive production such as Herheim’s at Bayreuth, I can see how some would consider it boring. However, if it’s an action-packed thriller you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong opera! The presentation on blu-ray doesn’t help. The stage picture is very murky throughout, presumably as the lighting scheme was designed for an audience sitting in the dark and no compensation was made for the filming. The booklet makes much of the dramatic moment in Act 1 where the stream running across the stage turns red at the entrance of Amfortas. Someone should have told the video director, because if I hadn’t read it in the booklet, I wouldn’t have noticed.
Overall, the performance feels very slow. The overall timing clocks in at 272 minutes, which is indeed slow – even the normally sluggish Levine managed 264, however, if anything it feels slower. I have most of the available DVDs or blu-rays of Parsifal and this is the slowest. A note to dacochrane – the “funerial” performance by Pappano with “dragging tempi” that you refer to was actually pretty much the same length as this, at 270. What I find really bizarre is that Gatti’s own performances at Bayreuth were among the fastest at a mere 250. What bothered me more was a certain smoothed-over quality, with the few big climaxes not really registering as they should. Again this was very different from my recollection of Gatti’s Bayreuth performances, where the climaxes were seismic. To me, the slow speed is most damaging in the more dramatic Act 2. For example, the coup-de-theatre moment when Kundry appears to Parsifal is robbed of its impact partly because the whole thing is so slow, but also because Kundry is already in full view before she starts to sing.
On the plus side, the quality of the singing is easily the best of any recent filmed version. Jonas Kaufmann proves once again that he is currently the finest tenor in the world in Germanic repertoire. Rene Pape has pretty much made the role of Gurnemanz his own in recent years – managing to bring the lengthy narrative passages to life like no-one else I’ve heard. I was a little apprehensive about Katarina Dalayman, having experienced her strained and squally Brunnhilde at the Met in 2012, but here she is superb.
Sound and pictures are both pretty good. Technical details: 24-bit LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
I’ve given this four stars. I found that the slow speeds, the lack of real impact in the climaxes and the lack of very much going on onstage combined to make it all a bit dull. And one final complaint – I wish that the moronic Met audience could wait until the music has finished before they start clapping. At least in this production there weren’t any fancy sets for them to clap at, which is another irritating Met habit.
on 5 January 2016
What a performance! René Pape is in marvellous voice, as is Kaufman when he is not shouting at the top of his voice. Peter Mattei is probably the best available Amfortras and he sings with excellent voice and plenty of understanding of what old Richard W. was aiming at. Dalayman was much better than the critics' warned and was really perfectly acceptable, if not particularly distinguished.
The orchestra makes a hesitant start (unfortunately it does not come in together on its first entry) but quickly gets its act together and plays as well as any orchestral band anywhere in the world.
The conductor? Excellent, with few reservations. Conducting a very slow beat is extremely difficult and is only really mastered by Dudamel but Gatti succeeded pretty well, while never quite rising to Dudamel's level (listen to Dudamel's performance of the Berlioz Grande Messe if you want to hear a conductor mastering a very slow beat). Once things started moving, Gatti was masterful and was fully the equal of Karajan and Kna., and better than Dudamel.
BUT: What on earth was going on the hall on that evening? It sounded as if something had gone very badly wrong with some of the air circulating fans, with a annoying grinding sound which dominated the quiet passages. Either that or the main microphones has failed and the recording had to rely on microphones placed elsewhere. It is worth noting that the Met's original broadcast suffered from exactly the same problems. I had written at the time to the Met to complain about it but there was no reply. What is surprising is that the DVDs claimed to be in HD, while what was in HD was the grating fans. To be fair, this problem only affected the quiet passages; the normal sound was excellent.
Thank you, Metropolitan Opera for an outstanding achievement, only really marred by the grating noises if you are listening very carefully.
on 26 April 2014
I have two other versions of Parsifal on DVD. The one from Zurich I find unacceptable in its staging, the other, from Baden-Baden is on another plane. It recreates the ENO production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, enigmatic but gripping, and very well performed. But this new DVD, from the Metropolitan Opera of New York, is so good that even the Lehnhoff must bow to it.
The producer is the Canadian Francois Girard, and this production started life in Lyon. Here, the dream cast has been assembled, the decor has been expanded to fit the stage, and the result is both spectacular and reverent. By that I don't mean that the action is treated as a religious rite, but that the dramatic action inspires feeling of reverence for the music, the drama and the text. I don't count German among my languages, but the subtitles seem apt and helpful.
This is no literal staging of Wagner's scenario. The decor is almost abstract, using cloudscape projection and, in Act 3, an enormous moon, to hold the gaze. Nor is there any attempt at medievalism in the costumes. All except Kundry and the Flower-maidens wear modern clothes -suits for the knights, something a little less formal for Parsifal, long black dresses for female chorus. Even Klingsor wears a suit. One has got so used to, even tired of, this solution, but here it quickly became acceptable to me. Much is made of chorus grouping to suggest emotions, which may explain the presence of women among the Knights. The chorus members acquit themselves with honour from their various visual and vocal tasks.
Has there ever been a more convincingly youthful Parsifal than Jonas Kaufmann? On DVD, his facial expressions are so nuanced and moving that he could have created the role without actually singing! But he does sing, and with such beauty and variety of tone that I for one felt totally engaged with the character's evolution. Alongside him are three notable interpreters. Katerina Dalayman's Kundry is one of the best I've seen, and Rene Pape is outstanding as Gurnemanz. His voice sounds so fresh and his enunciation so keen that all danger of prosiness is avoided. The Amfortas is Peter Mattei. I had not heard this artist before, but now understand and agree with the high opinions many opera-lovers hold of his talents, dramatic as well as vocal. The suffering of Amfortas has never been so sharply conveyed, in my experience. Only the Klingsor seems a little conventional, both in his singing and his interpretation, but perhaps the producer didn't quite avoid the 'Dracula' stereotype.
So much of the triumph of the performance must be credited to Girard, but Daniele Gatti's reading of the score also deserves high praise. The music unfolds in a seamless sequence, without dragging or over-emphasis. A triumph for all concerned.
on 22 April 2014
I'm not going to quibble about modern productions, as it's always refreshing to see something like Parsifal not in pseudo Arthurian costume or classical European churchy settings. There's an interesting overview of how long conductors take to get through this score on Wikipedia, and whether it takes four or nearly five hours to perform I'm inclined to judge on quality, not quantity. And we can accept a setting for what it is, without feeling it's "relevant" to us.
There's certainly a bleak futuristic feel to this production which provides a hi-tech sci-fi atmosphere which I'm sure will impress people not familiar with opera; the periodic injection of colour is striking when it appears. Unlike some I just love the new world of projections and effects in operas especially from the Met; after years of watching singers strut about stages unable to act its refreshing to see Jonas Kaufmann, Katarina Dalayman, Rene Pape et al add a very 'filmic' dimension to the performance. And in support of them, I'd love to see a movie actor maintain something like 'anguish' or 'pity' for twenty minutes!
The projections for me do not intrude and add an amazing backdrop to some of the orchestral passages. Sometimes music is the only backdrop we need and although some modern productions are not entirely evident in their reasoning, a static feel often allows the music to speak for itself: an original intention of opera.
For such a mammoth piece I have to say I wasn't bored at any moment; I thought I would be. Dalayman is intense and allows us to share her internal portrayal, Kaufmann develops his character sympathetically and is as wonderful as ever, Mattei is gloriously lyrical; there are no embarrassing 'faux' emotions.
The landscape of Acts 1 and 3 is impressive - but maybe only because of the projections - and Act 2's cavernous space acted mostly in a real pool of blood-coloured water is effective. The bed makes sense! What doesn't make sense to me is the use of plastic stacking chairs. Please, can producers find something a bit more timeless for a timeless setting? It put me in mind of Richard Jones' Lohengrin and the formica table! The end of Act 2 was a little weak from an action point of view, for such a triumph in the story. The choreographic style in Act 2 I did find a little dated, but it was effective and clever to have the singers blend with the corps de ballet in the way they did.
The Met orchestra is powerful, thoughtfully and lovingly conducted by Gatti, and I didn't sense any loss of power like some reviewing the Blu-Ray have done. On DVD through a normal TV with good headphones, I found the climaxes positively cataclysmic.
One thing which can be said about this production is that the continuity is superb; the interview with Girard shows him to be unpretentious and quite humbled by the opera itself. From this, I accepted his interpretation alone.
Perhaps I was spoiled by seeing the Stefan Herheim production at Bayreuth in 2011 with Daniele Gatti conducting; watching this very different production (on Bluray) was both shocking and disappointing.
This production is long at 4 hours 26 minutes. The tempo is so different it seemed like a completely different work, apart from the music (which was so ponderously performed at times that I wondered what had caused such a catharsis). The long first act, a sluggish 1hr56" -- by contrast Herheim's was a much more appropriate 1hr41" - is particularly wearisome with Mr Gatti's conducting and the spartan set.
Also, it is set in a "post apocalyptic" world with basically modern costumes for men but (oddly) sackcloth for women. The sets are a lunar landscape in acts 1 and 3 with interesting if distracting backdrops, and a rather overly symbolic bloody chasm, with just a bed, for most of act 2.
The beauty of the Herheim production, which was nevertheless controversial and certainly not to everyone's taste, was that it was genuinely creative in its settings for each act. It is therefore highly regrettable that the recording of his 2012 Bayreuth production although broadcast on Arte and available on Youtube (in sadly poor quality) has been withheld for "legal reasons" and barring a change of heart or some common sense is unlikely to see the light of day again.
This cast is headed by the superb Jonas Kaufmann, with Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor as the only other really good lead singer. The Met Orchestra performs well but in my view the production as a whole is well less than the sum of the parts and is thus most disappointing.
The producer Francois Girard, a French Canadian film director, has previously directed for Cirque du Soleil and has staged Siegfried for the Canadian Opera; this production first appeared in Lyon in 2012. In the programme book for the Met production he comments that his goal "is to engage a modern audience and to let this piece say things that matter without kidnapping it and throwing it into a new context, which I think is being done to Wagner too often". Unfortunately, I think that this sums up his approach only too well.
Opera is quite different from Film and I suspect Monsieur Girard may wish to reflect on this. His Emperor's new clothes are not visible to everyone!
on 13 June 2014
No doubt that Parsifal is a difficult opera. 4½ hours of quasi-religious twaddle. There is no way I would even consider putting my posterior through that in the theatre. It also contains some of Wagner's most beautiful music and this is a super production.
Rene Pape is a superb Gurnemanz and there isn't a bad performance in the whole cast but Jonas Kaufmann owns it. I was well aware of the quality of his voice but had not previously seen him in a production. By the standards of opera singers he can act. This is easily the best production of Parsifal I have seen on disc.
on 17 April 2014
This item took forever to be released after first advertised. I am glad it finally came out. The music as conducted by Danielle Gatti was heavenly to listen to. Worth the purchase.