HD technology warrants a re-release of this 1998 Bayreuth Parsifal. It demonstrates the format's superiority over DVD, both in fitting this longish opera onto a single disc, and by making it visible again in High Definition picture quality.
Wolfgang Wagner's production and design are traditional and unchallenging. The staging is quite effective in suggesting a mythic timelessness. The outdoor scenes - the forest of the kingdom of the Grail Knight, the garden of the Flower Maidens - are dominated by flanking sets of tall columns with multifaceted irregular planar faces. By imaginative use of lighting, these assume various colours appropriate to their settings. For the forest scenes in Act 1 they turn into an intensely dark forest green. In Act 3 their colour is more pale green, symbolically indicating the subsequent decline of the Grail kingdom. For the Flower Maidens scene they are bathed in a ghostly twilight blue when the maidens first enter, and then take on shimmering dark blue and red hues during the seduction scene. In Act 3 the glowing grail casting a luminous red light on the costumes of the knights is particularly memorable. However, the stage settings and subdued stage lighting do not lend themselves especially well to film presentation. Close-ups are reproduced with the expected sharpness of focus but details are inevitably lost when a darkly lit production using the full dimensions of the opera stage is viewed even on a 'reference' television, the result being that the production could well have been just a DVD.
The quality of the singing is splendid. I imagine that the acts were filmed on separate days, to great advantage where the singers' stamina is concerned. Hans Sotin is a compassionate Gurnemanz, Linda Watson, caught in her prime, a fascinatingly troubled Kundry and Poul Elming an appropriately naive Parsifal, with a richly nuanced approach to both acting and singing, ideally suited to the role and avoiding the woodenness that afflicts so many Wagner tenors. The long dialogue scene between Kundry and Parsifal is done with outstanding musical and dramatic conviction. Falck Struckmann as Amfortas is projecting his burden of pain, both in his body language and in the tone of his voice. He is just brilliant and the only member of the cast who could really be described as acting. Sinopoli brings a new freshness to the music and this is an intensely moving account of a supreme masterpiece of musical theatre. Given the date, the sound quality is excellent.
I will start with the sound quality, it is excellent with the balance of orchestra to voice spot on. The sets are imaginative but surreal, opening with green dark crystals of floor to ceiling dimensions representing a forest. As the prelude proceeds the camera slowly homes in on the stage and we realise that a figure sits quietly at the edge of the stage, superimposed is an image of the holy grail. As the image fades Hans Sutins magnificent ringing base baritone can be heard as Gurnemanz, the camera finds him and it becomes apparent that this is a traditionally costumed production. Linda Watson is the next major character, playing Kundry with a rich round mezzo, which resounds in her upper register, she is a very credible actress and is amongst the best interpretations I have seen. Amfortas is played by Falk Strukmann, his base baritone voice is lyrical, and he has a wonderful face for displaying the agony of his wound. The naive Parsifal is played by Poul Elming with a bland unworldliness, his tenor is bright and clear. The set moves magically slowly until for the second part the action takes place in grey/blue hexagonal room, where the grail is kept hidden, and here the Knights assemble to see the grail revealed by Amfortas. Parsifal stands to one side taking in the scene and seeing Amfortas pain. In act 2 we are in Klingsors magic realm, Ekkehard Wiaschiha is another impressive voice, and a deadly malevolent look. He descends from on high to confront Kundry. A highlight is now presented with the flower maidens sequence, it is most beautifully choreographed with lovely voices from the solo maidens, and it all viewed through rose tinted lighting. Linda Watson transformed into seductress is wonderful, with great clarity in her soliloquy . The awkward catching of the spear here is also well done, as Klingsors magic kingdom falls away. In act three Gurnemanz is in his forest retreat, differently lit huge chrystals still impressive, and here he is reunited with firstly Kundry and secondly Parsifal. He realises that the spear carried by Parsifal is the holy relic. The scene slowly changes back to the Knights meeting hall, where Amfortas presides over the Knights in a very moving setpiece of assembly and homage. Suffice it to say that it works out well in the end. This is very much on a par with the Siegfried Jerusalem version, and streets ahead of the Nagano conducted and Teatro La Fenice di Venezia offerings. There are of course others on which I could not possibly comment, I have not seen them!
Performed in Bayreuth, the sacred place where Wagner intended this music drama to be staged it features a very Nordic looking Parsifal played by Poul Elming. How refreshing to enjoy the spectacle of a traditional performance. However we should not be surprised about this as the Stage Director and Set Designer is Wolfgang Wagner who unlike his brother Wieland understood the necessity to be faithful to the intended interpretation and portrayal of this 13th and last music drama. Too often we have witnessed since the days of Wieland the de-germanification of the Master`s works and this is nothing other than a betrayal of both the Master himself and Aryan culture. Linda Watson as Kundry was simply magnificent! This production captures the true essence of the drama and the set design is both traditional in spirit but innovative in technical design. Without any hesitation I would recommend this particular production to all true Wagnerians.