James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
17 April 1982
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasThomas Stewart
TiturelAra Berberian
GurnemanzJerome Hines
ParsifalPeter Hofmann
KlingsorMorley Meredith
KundryMignon Dunn
GralsritterMichael Best
Richard Vernon
New York Times


RICHARD WAGNER’S aim in life was to establish a new religion in which he would serve simultaneously as messiah, pope, chief prophet and court musician. ”Parsifal,” a summation of these megalomaniacal dreams, is built on a shaky foundation of legends and symbols drawn from Christian and pre-Christian mythology that defies close analysis either as religion or cultural anthropology. It is as if someone were to snip out pages of ”The Golden Bough” at random and paste them up as an opera libretto. Nevertheless, in a good performance of ”Parsifal,” Wagner’s last opera, inconsistencies and contradictions can evaporate for long stretches of time under the spell of its ruminative music. There are gray-headed citizens who claim to have experienced a ”Parsifal” or two that transfixed and hypnotized them throughout.

However, ”throughout” in this context means a five-hour-plus duration, and Monday night’s ”Parsifal,” the season’s first, did have its long quarters of an hour. James Levine, who will be making his Bayreuth debut this summer as conductor of this same opera, set aptly deliberate tempos and it can be said, overlooking a couple of slips of the lip in the brass section, that he consistently drew pristine playing from the orchestra. In fact, orchestral clarity was carried a bit too far, so that the ear hankered at times for the mystical haze that a Hans Knappertsbusch could achieve in such interludes as the Good Friday Spell. On the whole, Mr. Levine resisted the temptation to press the music forward impatiently, as some ”Parsifal” conductors do to its harm, but further refinements in Mr. Levine’s approach are likely to come only with age. It is difficult for a young conductor to think and feel his way to the heart of music that is essentially that of a tired old genius. There is a feebleness and absent-mindedness to much of ”Parsifal” that can be extremely touching when faced squarely.

Peter Hofmann, in the title role, was the very image of a fairhaired, sexually befuddled knight. A handsome fellow with a sizable tenor voice that could fill the house even when it did not have great suppleness or heroic ring, he gave us a pure-hearted, rather dim character who was satisfied to let things happen to him. Jerome Hines, grave, gentle and imposing as Gurnemanz, gave a more rounded characterization. He sang with unforced sonorousness even in the last act when he was clearly weakening. Mignon Dunn, portraying Kundry for the first time at the Metropolitan, sustained that taxing part with her usual intensity. The role’s top notes proved too much for her in several places, but on the whole Miss Dunn made a good beginning. Thomas Stewart gave an affecting account of Amfortas’s agonies, the current quaver of his voice adding a movingly pathetic note to the old king’s frailty. And that most versatile of magicians, Morley Meredith, brought baritonal strength and dramatic acuity to the role of the nefarious Klingsor. It is further evidence of Wagner’s confusion in this opera, as well as his music’s power to overwhelm all reservations, that Klingsor remains a baritone even though one of his serious problems is that he castrated himself in an effort to be allowed to join the celibate fellowship of the Holy Grail. However, we can forget all that: Mr. Morley makes a more convincing Klingsor than could any countertenor who comes to mind.

The familiar production, staged by Nathaniel Merrill and designed by Robert O’Hearn, stood up well in this first appearance of the season. Although it makes a few modish concessions to the stark, circle-obsessed style of Wieland Wagner – those red lobster claws that appear to serve as chandeliers in Klingsor’s castle, for instance – the pervading tone is that of the 19th century. Some of the staging, in fact, might have been transported directly from the past to the Metropolitan. The giddy efforts of plumpish chorus ladies to seduce Parsifal in Klingsor’s garden might well have been made more plausible by dimmer lighting or less revealing costumes. The magical moment when Parsifal seizes Klingsor’s hurled spear out of the air misfired badly, so that the guileless knight had to bend over and pick it up from behind a rock.

DONAL HENAHAN | April 7, 1982

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
160 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 302 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Nathaniel Merrill (1970)