Christof Perick
Chicago Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra
6 October 1986
Lyric Opera Chicago
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasSiegmund Nimsgern
TiturelMatti Salminen
GurnemanzHans Sotin
ParsifalJon Vickers
KlingsorHermann Becht
KundryTatiana Troyanos
GralsritterThomas Booth
John Horton Murray
Chicago Tribune

`Parsifal` Fills Gap For Lyric

“Parsifal“ is a work that has long held a special fascination for a devoted segment of the opera-going public, including even those who can take or leave the majority of Wagner`s music dramas. This is partly because of its Christian mysticism, partly because of its being the composer`s final opera, partly because of the score`s unique, ethereal beauty.

Wagner called it a “staged festival play“ and forbade its performance outside his operatic holy of holies, Bayreuth. And while his wishes have not been observed in our century, “Parsifal“ makes such formidable demands on a theater`s resources that to attempt a performance under less than festival conditions would seem to be an act of purest folly. Little wonder, then, that Wagner`s swan song has not been heard in Chicago for 41 long years.

With the company premiere of “Parsifal“ Monday at the Civic Opera House, Lyric Opera closed the last remaining major gap in its Wagner repertory, and for the most part closed it honorably.

The singing, conducting and orchestral work all represent what audio buffs would call state of the art, and, in truth, you could search the world over and not find a better roster than the one Lyric is fielding for its remaining six performances. To have the services of Jon Vickers, today`s foremost Heldentenor, in the title role might be considered blessing enough, but every role has been cast from strength, and the entire performance fused into a noble totality by the firm conducting of Christoph Perick. An admirable Wagnerian, he made the uncut performance (it lasted exactly five hours, including the intervals) seem not a minute too long.

“Parsifal“ represents Wagner`s faith in the ultimate power of spiritual love as symbolized by the passion of Jesus. The “guileless fool“ Parsifal by affirming the power of pure Christian love and innocence becomes the instrument of redemption for the knights of the Grail, healing the wound of Amfortas, destroying his enemies and restoring the sacred spear to its rightful place in the temple. He is a brave youth grown to manhood and wisdom. All this rang magnificently true in Vickers` performance. At his first entry this Parsifal was very much the naive child of nature, growing in heroic depth and stature through the epiphany of Kundry`s kiss to his final act of healing. Vickers` craggy tenor soared with intensity, rarely sacrificing lyricism to force; his outburst “Amfortas! die Wunde!“ became the dramatic crest of the opera. In his singing and acting he limned the human, as opposed to the mythic, aspects of the character–it was fascinating to watch the knight develop in inner certainty. That such a performance should come from an artist who is nearing 60 is astonishing.

The role of Kundry–part enchantress, part seductress, part drudge–has to be one of the strangest and most demanding in all of opera, but in it Tatiana Troyanos once again proved herself a singing-actress to be reckoned with. She may not be the most moving Kundry in my experience, but she is one of the few sopranos who can encompass its register extremes and who bring out the complexities of Kundry`s nature with beauty as well as intensity of tone. Hans Sotin, although he lacks the deep, dark bass of Wagnerian tradition, made a wise, sympathetic Gurnemanz, singing with warm beauty of tone throughout. Amfortas` guilty despair seldom is as vividly drawn as it was by Siegmund Nimsgern, who sang with real emotional weight and musical incisiveness. Titurel, an onstage figure in this version, aptly suited the sonorous Matti Salminen. Hermann Becht had the menacing measure of Klingsor. The solo knights and esquires, offstage alto voice and flower maidens proved worthy complements to the evening.

Perick`s conducting, so well integrated with the vocal performance, made one aware that “Parsifal“ is essentially a huge orchestral tone poem with voices. His was more a tautly dramatic view of the score than a broadly expansive one, perhaps, but better a steady, unforced flow of lyricism than stodgy solemnity. No one could expect the Opera House to match the rich, cushiony acoustics of Bayreuth, but, even with its sonic dryness, the orchestra sounded full, never muddy, and the Good Friday music shone luminously.

Less convincing was Pier Luigi Pizzi`s staging, in his own stylized decor, borrowed from La Fenice in Venice. This was very much a designer`s show: nice to look at, but unresonant in dramatic detail. The portable white columns and simple set-pieces allowed for smooth scenic transitions but their deployment disregarded too many of Wagner`s detailed instructions; there was no dove, no hovering spear, no ruined castle.

John von Rhein | October 08, 1986

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Premiere, HO
Technical Specifications
256 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 438 MByte (MP3)
A production by Pier Luigi Pizzi