James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
14 April 1979
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasBernd Weikl
TiturelPaul Plishka
GurnemanzMartti Talvela
ParsifalJon Vickers
KlingsorVern Shinall
KundryChrista Ludwig
GralsritterDana Talley
Philip Booth
New York Times

Parsifal Ends 5‐Year Absence at Met

THERE are those who would say that the trouble with “ Parsifal” is that it never makes up its mind whether it is musical theater or. a religious play. There are others, of course, who would deny there is any trouble with the work at all, and would say that its fluctuations of style and intent are precisely what make it the most ineffably satisfying of all the Wagner dramas. The Metropolitan Opera Monday night brought back its nine‐year‐old production, most recently seen in the houte five seasons ago, and once more the old polarities of opinion are likely to be voiced. No fewer than 16 singers in the cast were taking their roles for the first time with this company, and the conductor, James Levine, also was being initiated.

Conductors are probably weary of being told that their performances of “Parsifal” do not exude the mystic air that elder Wagnerians ‘such as Hans Knappertsbusch knew how to achieve. Mr. Levine drew magnificently disciplined playing from the orchestra all evening, and managed the music’s long lines and generally unassertive tone like the expert conductor he is. But probably only at Bayreuth, now and then, can the elusive quasi-religious atmosphere and ritual solemnity that set “Parsifal” aside ,from other Wagner works be truly achieved. The Metropolitan is a traditional opera house, and therefore sullied with secularism even before it starts. Still, those who want “Parsifal” will take it wherever and whenever they can find it, and they could have. little fault to find with the purely vocal end of this first performance of the season. Paramount in a strong cast was Christa Ludwig, whose sensitively sung and carefully thought out Kundry illuminated the entire performance. Miss Ludwig made of Kundry more than the usual mindless Trilby to Klingsor’s Svengali. The role, which she also took in the production’s premiere in 1970, is full of traps and perplexities. But her Kundry was a wholly comprehensible woman as well as a Wagnerian symbol of sexual ruination. Even Miss Ludwig, however, did not manage to make less than embarrassing the scene in which Kundry washes Parsifal’s feet, an act that alludes plainly to the Christ story and puts too heavy a burden on Parsifal, an innocent fool if there

The Parsifal, Jon Vickers, carried the burden of most tenors who sing the part, that of maturity. In the first act he is supposed to be a boy, and probably a boy in early puberty at that, and Mr. Vickers, for all his acting guile, did not look like a boy. In the later acts, however, he was splendid, his voice sometimes constricted on top, but taking the taxing score in its broad stride.

Martti Talvela, grand of stature and easily sonorous of voice, made an imposing Gurnemanz, while other impressive performances came from Bernd Weikl (Amfortas) and Paul Plishka (Titurel). Vern Shiners Klingsor was less than magical, tending toward a hard, needlessly rasping tone much of the time.

The sets and direction, by Robert O’Hearn and Nathaniel Merrill, respectively, still suffer from Wagnerian schizophrenia, unable to find any convincing style, old or new, and stick with it. And at times the stage picture is not only unpersuasive, but also absolutely ugly, as when Klingsor his castle on a platform under what appears to be a scarlet feather boa that is about to devour him. The throwing of his spear at Parsifal also is clumsily managed —but why go on? Do not go to this “Parsifal” to see the sets. There is something to hear, especially when Miss Ludwig is on stage.


User Rating
Media Type/Label
OOA, TOL, LyR, Fiori
Technical Specifications
224 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 401 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Nathaniel Merrill (1970)