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.
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