James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
5 April 1980
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasNorman Bailey
TiturelWilliam Wilderman
GurnemanzJerome Hines
ParsifalJess Thomas
KlingsorVern Shinall
KundryTatiana Troyanos
GralsritterTimothy Jenkins
Philip Booth

Levine leads the Met in moving ‘Parsifal’

Wagner’s subtitle, “Sacred Festival Drama,” for “Parsifal” mandates consecration in approach and performance and such was its treatment Saturday afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera. Lasting just a little short of five hours, with James Levine conducting and with Tatiana Troyanos singing her first Kundry anywhere, the listener might trust Levine, hope for the general best and face Miss Troyanos with some trepidation.

Thus it’s a special pleasure to report that the mezzo-soprano, while not exactly reborn like the current vernal season, took big strides and saluted herself with new honor as Kundry. She wailed, erupted and repented in the vicinity of Monsalvat (ostensibly a castle in the Spanish Pyrenees), with vocal splendor from high to low voice. She played her with an unworldly simplicity which seemed the essence of the role. Kundry is multi-faceted, a symbol of feminine complexity with a past steeped in mystery. “I come from far lands where I’ve noted much,” she tells Parsifal. Bewitched or not, onstage she is at different times the matrix of both voluptuousness and redemption.

After the long, slow “Prelude,” which was somewhat unsettled so far as precision and rhythmic propulsion went, the interpretation with Levine and his orchestra became pertinently expressive, whether it was the stern tred of the timpani solemnly punctuating the ritual procession, or the playing of the sublime “Good Friday” music. This “Parsifal,” helped at its core by a strong cast, became more deeply moving as drama – deliberate though much of its pace is – than many a more consistently explosive opera.

In the title role, tenor Jess Thomas was superb, singing with fervor and assurance in outstandingly clear German and projecting the emotions with power. The seduction scene for once was convincing, due to both Troyanos and Thomas, while the latter in the final transfiguration when Amfortas is healed and the Grail unveiled, became exalted along with his scene.

Norman Bailey in his first Met Amfortas had, with his lean, pained Christ-like face, just the physiognomy for the role and he sang well. Then there was that veteran basso, Jerome Hines, who hasn’t sung Gurnemanz for about 15 years, but returned to the role with the vocal vigor of youth, while his interpretation was appropriately noble. Vern Shinall’s Klingsor, a bald, red-drenched chalk-faced demon, was fiercely venomous while William Wildermann as the ancient Titurel, pleased the ear with a secure, rich sound that belied an old man’s age.

Nathaniel Merrill’s production, new in 1970, and Robert O’Hearn’s sets and costumes remain fresh. Like Levine’s musical approach, they do honor to Wagner’s genius.

Harriett Johnson

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 565 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Nathaniel Merrill (1970)