James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
22 April 1995
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasWolfgang Brendel
TiturelPaul Plishka
GurnemanzRobert Lloyd
ParsifalPlácido Domingo
KlingsorDonald McIntyre
Kundry Gwyneth Jones
GralsritterAnthony Dean Griffey
Raymond Aceto
New York Times

‘Parsifal’ as Vernal Metaphor

This has been the weekend when Christians and Jews think more about the God they hold in common than they ordinarily might. Yet Easter and Passover are also sublimations of the seasons. They are about climate and weather and human survival: the transition from cold to warmth, from lost to found, from barrenness to green things that grow.

Wagner’s “Parsifal,” in all its warped grandeur, is another traveler along this passage. The triumph of the Grail is also the triumph of the sun. And just before midnight on Friday, when Placido Domingo lifted his cup before the patrons of the Metropolitan Opera, no Wagner lover could help but feel the redemptive glow of those A-flat major harmonies. Amfortas’s wound had been healed, holy relics rescued and restored, and outside on city streets flowering pear trees were in full blossom. The Met’s four-year-old production of “Parsifal” had its Good Friday performance three days ago, with two more performances to follow. James Levine, whose deep association with this music is known both here and at Bayreuth, conducted again. The tempos on Friday were not quite as glacial as in the past, yet were equally reverent.

Mr. Domingo is an object of amazement. This is no struggling middle-aged tenor. He has taken a voice naturally dark, and now darkened more with the years, and turned it into a Wagnerian instrument of resonant clarity and confidence. Gone are the elongated German vowels that once betrayed his Latin origins. Is this the tenor who will redeem the role of Tristan from disuse? Thoughts of redemption have, indeed, flown thick and fast this weekend, so let’s file that one away with the rest. There are worthwhile arguments for and against the Met’s literal renditions of Wagner. Largely driven by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen’s visual design and Otto Schenk’s conceptions, these knights-of-old meadows and mountains idealize in high-tech form Wagner’s own imaginings. Reality in “Parsifal,” however, may not be real enough. Amfortas’s wound is more important than Amfortas himself, just as Klingsor’s evil and anguished spirit tends to eclipse the man.

Items in the current production, at any rate, have been refined. The rubbery yellow flowers are discreetly mowed from the pathways of Act III, Scene 1, therefore eliminating the amusement of watching them bounce back in place. Untouched is the persuasive simile of old-growth trees to cathedral arches, vaults and columns.

Several of the characters in “Parsifal” go out of their way to advertise ill health, and the Met on Friday obliged with unintentional type-casting. As Amfortas, a bronchitis-ridden Wolfgang Brendel limped through the first act and gave way to James Courtney in the third. Kundry’s tortured presence had its parallels in Gwyneth Jones’s singing. My powers of description are pretty much exhausted as far as this voice is concerned. One listens to Miss Jones’s early recordings with admiration; one wants very much to make contact with what appears to be a compelling stage presence. But it is that wobble, that heart-stopping wobble, that keeps getting in the way.

Robert Lloyd was the dignified Gurnemanz, Donald McIntyre the rough and aggressive Klingsor. The Met orchestra took time to clear its sinuses but grew in sensitivity and refinement over this five-and-a-quarter-hour journey.

BERNARD HOLLAND | April 17, 1995

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
128 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 224 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Otto Schenk (1991)