James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
10 April 1986
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasSimon Estes
TiturelJulien Robbins
GurnemanzMartti Talvela
ParsifalPeter Hofmann
KlingsorFranz Mazura
KundryKathryn Harries
GralsritterMichael Best
James Courtney
New York Times

The Metropolitan Opera is a strange company, one that has been unable recently to mount a credible ”Carmen” or ”Tosca” but can put on a ”Parsifal” of the highest quality, as it did Thursday night. Wagner’s final and most problematical opera, in its first performance of this flickering season, gave off a continual glow of excellence in spite of a cast that sagged seriously in several places.

The prime mover in the success, as in last season’s similarly memorable ”Parsifal” performances, was James Levine, who molded the famously languorous and luxuriant score into seamless unity. He drew magnificent playing from the Metropolitan orchestra throughout an evening that stretched past five hours and demanded unflagging concentration from everyone involved, including the audience.

Much of the success of this ”Parsifal” can be traced to the Nathaniel Merrill production, now 16 years old but still one of the company’s glories. Robert O’Hearn’s sets evoke the proper mythic atmosphere, except in the opening scene of the last act, which traps the action in a dreary saucer that gives the the Good Friday Spell no chance to open out into the springtime scene. The staging is most entrancing in the scenic transformation of the first act and works its magic, too, in the transition to the final scene, helped mightily by the orchestra’s swelling climaxes and the hypnotically swaying procession of the Knights of the Grail.

Peter Hofmann, in the title role of the holy fool, gives ground to no Parsifal in recent history in the matter of physique and blond handsomeness. And when he was able to sing softly or semiloudly, his tenor could be winning enough. Under even the slightest pressure, however, he took to bleating. Mr. Hofmann has developed prematurely aged vocal cords that contrast sadly with his youthful looks. Martti Talvela was a stolid but impressive Gurnemanz for much of the evening, but his bass weakened in the final act, forcing him to mouth some passages while the orchestra covered for him.

The illness of Leonie Rysanek, which has put her out of the remainder of the season, brought in a new face and voice as her replacement. Kathryn Harries, a British soprano, made her Metropolitan debut as Kundry and left a fine impression both as an actress and a Wagnerian singer. She was not as thrillingly wild and primitive a Kundry in the opening act as Miss Rysanek can be, but her warm and supple voice found the seduction scene with Parsifal cut exactly to its measure. Hers is a sizable, well-projected lyric instrument that might make her a suitable Sieglinde or Elisabeth in this house.

Simon Estes, in an unconvincing wig, sang nobly as Amfortas, the King with the wound that will not heal. The magician Klingsor, who emasculates himself in a futile attempt to gain admission to the exclusive men’s club on Monsalvat, gave another of his wonderfully villainous performances of that role. The six Flower Maidens chirped prettily and made their vain passes at Mr. Hofmann, whose Parsifal did not look like a good candidate for the celibate organization commanded by Amfortas.

DONAL HENAHAN | April 12, 1986

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 629 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by Nathaniel Merrill (1970)