James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
7 April 2001
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasHans-Joachim Ketelsen
TiturelRaymond Aceto
GurnemanzJohn Tomlinson
ParsifalPlácido Domingo
KlingsorEkkehard Wlaschiha
KundryVioleta Urmana
GralsritterEric Cutler
Alfred Walker
New York Times

Parsifal at 60: Youthfully Rash, Vocally Rich

Otto Schenk’s lushly traditional production of Wagner’s ”Parsifal” was mounted by the Metropolitan Opera in 1991 especially for Plácido Domingo, who was then 50, in his vocal prime and eager for the challenge of this touchstone German dramatic tenor role. Few people back then would have guessed that 10 years later Mr. Domingo would still be singing Parsifal. Yet on Thursday night at the Met the 60-year-old tenor returned to the role in a deeply affecting overall performance conducted by James Levine. And if anything, Mr. Domingo’s portrayal is richer than ever.

He does not even try to look like the heedless lost youth of the story, who first appears when he is dragged into a forest glen by the Knights of the Grail near the Spanish castle of Monsalvat and held to account for having blithely killed a swan with his bow and arrow. From the start, Mr. Domingo has the weathered appearance of a man his age.

But in his bearing, his intensity and, most of all, his burnished singing, he projects a quality of youthful impetuousness tamed by the realization that he has stumbled upon something life-changing that he does not understand. Mr. Domingo may have less sheer vocal power these days, but with his expert technique, he paces himself wisely and summons plenty of pinging tone when called for. Most importantly, his singing has seldom seemed so poignant nor his artistry more meaningful.

If Mr. Domingo’s performance represents a great tenor in his golden maturity, the debut of the Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana as Kundry heralds the arrival of an exciting artist. Ms. Urmana’s voice has a radiant, slightly cool tone. Yet she sings with aching expressivity and vividly captures the torment of the character, at once a sinful soul striving for redemption and a captive of dark forces compelled to serve the sorcerer Klingsor.

At the core of this ”Parsifal” was the great English bass John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz, the noble knight and loyal protector of the ailing ruler Amfortas. Mr. Tomlinson movingly embodied the character, a father figure who must determine whether Parsifal is the ”pure fool made wise by suffering” who will heal Amfortas and renew the knights, or just some young fool, which at first seems the case. Mr. Tomlinson sang with commanding, dusky tone, touched by vulnerability and doubt.

Though at times his voice was dry, the baritone Hans-Joachim Ketelsen brought vocal heft, incisive diction and pitiable anguish to the role of Amfortas. The baritone Ekkehard Wlaschiha projected the slithering character of Klingsor but bellowed through most of the role.

”Parsifal” has long been one of Mr. Levine’s great achievements. No doubt some listeners will object to his tempos, which seem to have grown slower over the years. But Wagner strove here for music that was a shimmering, diaphanous almost timeless presence, and Mr. Levine captures those qualities astonishingly well in this luminous performance. By this point, he and his players are in such sync that they can sustain the slow tempos without losing continuity. At times the performance achieves a quality of breathtaking stillness. But it is daringly slow.

There are just four more performances through next Saturday. Could these be Mr. Domingo’s last Met Parsifals? You would think so. But he may surprise us again.


User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 575 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Otto Schenk (1991)