Simon Rattle
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
17 December 2001
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasThomas Hampson
TiturelAlfred Reiter
GurnemanzJohn Tomlinson
ParsifalStig Fogh Andersen
KlingsorWillard White
KundryVioletta Urmana
GralsritterRobin Leggate
Graham Broadbent

Religious ritual, symbolist epic, disguised racial tract, psychological drama, creative confessional: Parsifal has been all of these things and more over its 120-year existence. Whither the true ’sacred festival play’?

It is a question that director Klaus Michael Grüber goes some way to answering. For the main part this is an intimate staging of Parsifal, dealing neither in cumbersome Romantic realism nor symbolic or metaphysical abstraction, and honouring the work’s antecedents in morality and mystery plays, with – as a glance at the programme-book illustrations reveals – more than a nod to Paul von Joukovsky’s designs for the Bayreuth premiere in 1882.

The monochrome set employed throughout Act One, with its gaunt cylindrical columns, makes for a credible forest clearing; then (with a little Brechtian intercedence from the stage-crew) it forms an immutable backdrop to the Grail scene. With its rectangular, ’widescreen’ appearance, this is an uncanny recreation of Leonardo’s ’The Last Supper’ mural, down to the exquisite similarities in light and space: an overwhelming sense of ritual made real. Significantly, the depiction of the Grail as solid matter accords with Wolfram von Eschenbach’s medieval poem rather than the Biblical narrative – a reflection, perhaps, of the Pagan/Christian contradictions at the core of Wagner’s text.

Following such elevated austerity, Act Two is almost bound to seem wilful – though, overhanging stuffed shark aside, Gilles Aillaud’s surreal sub-aqua sets, replete with Joan Miró-like mobiles, rarely feel obtrusive. Even the Pythonesque rockery representing Klingsor’s domain only claims attention when split asunder, following what must be one of the most breathtaking ’spear transferrals’ yet seen. The main criticism must be Grüber’s failure to establish the seriousness of the magician and his threat to the continuation of the Grail. Rather than the subversive magical aura intended, a feeling of caricature persists for the duration of the act.

The woodland backdrop which opens Act Three suggests an Oriental (Buddhist?) influence, with its delicate vernal hues and a deepening luminescence as the ’Good Friday’ music approaches. Here, as in the Grail scenes, Vera Dobroschke’s lighting is a marvel of intimation. The final scene adopts Max Ernst-like expressionism, the decrepit knights taking refuge behind their suits of armour; the dead Titurel aptly represented by a supine husk. The lowering of a gauze curtain to underline Parsifal’s becoming Lord of the Grail (here as elsewhere, the opus is surely blasphemous only from a narrow, institutionalised perspective) is a judicious touch – making him a link between them and us, then and now: a telling completion to this flawed but meaningful staging, balancing its interpretative options by withholding an ultimate commentary. Which is where the music takes over.

The cast, an experienced one, is generally well served by Moidele Bickel’s costumes – avoiding both slavish adherence to tradition and imaginative excess. As Gurnemanz, John Tomlinson is an inspired hermit-attired Knight of the Grail, adapting both his voice and stage-presence with unassuming mastery. In the opening scene, his subtly detailed delivery offsets monotony in the long arioso passages, which ensures continuity over the spare instrumentation. His beneficent presence in the Grail scene represents certainty in a context of decay and dissolution, while his welcoming of renewal in the ’Good Friday’ music combines authority with humanity to heart-warming effect.

Thomas Hampson surpasses himself as Amfortas, the broken and infirm Keeper of the Grail – driven to delirium and beyond through succumbing to sensual temptation. His lengthy and tortuous monologue in Act One finds him paring down his normally expansive baritone to a lacerating cry from the depths, intensified by a range of gestural acting which draws on the visual archetypes of Leonardo and Joukovsky in no uncertain terms. For once, the unveiling of the Grail is a true visual analogy to some of Wagner’s most plangent music.

By comparison, Stig Andersen can seem unexceptional as Parsifal, his Papageno-like outfit during the first two acts (Bickel’s one miscalculation) serving to promote him as a robust simpleton rather than a ’holy fool’. His gradual comprehending of Christ’s suffering and his experience of compassion is fitfully conveyed, though his presence gains conviction in the final act, culminating in a powerful assumption of the Grail office – affecting in its absence of undue heroics. There is human empathy in his characterisation, moreover, and a sense of compassion attained at the close.

Violeta Urmana is a capable, believable Kundry, far removed from the demented wild woman or supplicatory whore often depicted. Again, there’s a certain reticence to her portrayal, notably through the stages of her attempted seduction of Parsifal, which makes for musically satisfying if theatrically less than compulsive results. Yet her remorseful return and anointing of Parsifal’s feet has a touching humanity, something that a more commanding interpretation may well have precluded.

Willard W White is a secure if unimaginative Klingsor, his vocal acting not ideally provocative as he employs his frustrated sexual desires towards the destruction of Monsalvat. Encased in gelatinous armour as he bids the presentation of the Grail, Alfred Reiter is a grave, marmoreal Titurel – not even the memory of a communal ’golden age’. The Flower Maidens combine vocal entreaties and sensual eurhythmics with beguiling ease, while the Knights of the Grail have clearly (and rightly) been encouraged by Terry Edwards to convey their chivalry through musical rather than histrionic means. The offstage choral contribution in the Grail scene, and the tolling of bells in the ’Transformation’ music, has both appropriate atmosphere and spatial impact.

Simon Rattle made his debut as a Wagner conductor with Parsifal, the Netherlands Opera production a success at last year’s Proms. There, the playing of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra had a keen sense of line and phrasing within a cool, translucent overall ambience. From the outset, the Royal Opera’s forces have demonstrably greater expressiveness – capturing the sense of integrated timbre that Wagner was at pains to secure.

The emotional concentration invested in Gurnemanz’s narrative serves to intensify the Grail scene, its implacable ’ur-rhythm’ underlining a reading which eschews monumental aloofness, focusing – as indeed does the staging – on the expressive essence of the ritual. Rattle’s pacing of Act Two is now slightly broader, with a fractional loss of momentum during the confrontation between Parsifal and Kundry, though the re-emergence of Klingsor is thrillingly brought off. The lyrical, diaphanous playing throughout Act Three is a joy, avoiding both heaviness and cloying emotion. The renewal of the Grail, balancing its unveiling in Act One, caps the whole, dramatically and musically – a rare feat that confirms Rattle’s innate understanding of the work’s overriding harmonic-rhythmic process, in which the sense of an ever-evolving spiral towards fulfilment is palpable.

The outcome is exceptional Wagner conducting – combining with the staging in a production which, whatever its shortcomings, convincingly reaffirms Parsifal as a music-drama of and for the future.

Richard Whitehouse | December 14, 2001 Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

The Independent

Last month, during the interval of a performance at the Coliseum, I realised I had accidentally become a member of the Establishment. The exact point of entry is clear: I was twirling a glass of Chardonnay when a senior political commentator to whom I just had been introduced suggested I write a piece about how dreadful Wagner is. I looked around at the foyer full of industry and political types and realised the awful truth. “Actually,” I murmured, reddening slightly as I stuck my chewing gum behind my ear, “I think I’m coming round to Wagner.”

This was before I sat through the Royal Opera House’s nearly-new production of Wagner’s last opera, Parsifal. Over the course of the past one hundred and twenty years, Parsifal has gone from being an opera about the Holy Grail to being the Holy Grail of opera, and in many ways it perfectly sums up the difficulties I have with all of Wagner’s operas; firstly, that it brings out the best and worst in everyone it touches; secondly, that however beautiful the score might be, the libretto is tosh.

Setting aside the absurdity of a piece that purports to be about self-abnegation – ie not having sex with a variety of beautiful, interesting and willing women – while involving a depth of navel-gazing that only a true egomaniac could devise, it’s tempting to mock Parsifal’s effect on its core audience. The usual contingent of rapt, heavy-breathing pilgrims was out in force, but I will forfend from questioning how many propositions they are likely to have turned down themselves. Indeed I think we could all learn something from them. You see, true Wagnerites – as opposed to those who slaver over the singers whose careers are solely associated with his music – tend to shut their eyes while listening. Blind faith? Perhaps not. Having kept my eyes wide open throughout, I can safely say that the pilgrims’ way is the best method of enjoying this production. If Parsifal has brought out the best in Violeta Urmana (Kundry), Thomas Hampson (Amfortas), Willard White (Klingsor), the knights, the flower maidens and Sir Simon Rattle, it has brought out the worst in director Klaus Michael Grüber, whose nutty 1990 Amsterdam staging has been recycled here.

It takes a lot of directorial daftness to distract from musicianship of this calibre but Grüber has managed it. Act I starts cleanly enough with a forest of telegraph pole rectitude and some intriguing revolves, but any intensity achieved through the beautifully static interior compositions is thrown away once Act II begins. Poor Willard White! As if singing in a crushed velvet dressing-gown and P Diddy’s jewellery collection weren’t enough, he is forced to duck under floating splots of mouse-mat Matisse and a stuffed and mounted giant fish (a reference, I assume, to Klingsor’s self-castration). What with this and the Play-Doh ramparts, you can see how the erotic charge between Kundry and Parsifal (a turkey-necked and turkey-voiced Stig Andersen) might fail to ignite. Add in Act III’s Fuzzy-Felt snow, the wheeled crutch of Amfortas, the prone flower maidens (just lying down doesn’t count as a chat-up line in my book), and the legions of armoured knights in the sanctuary (oh, come on) and I suppose we should be grateful that Klingsor’s fish didn’t sing Take me to the River like Big Mouth Billy Bass.

It’s a shame that Urmana and Hampson in particular were subjected to this toy store nonsense. Both performances had a revelatory vulnerability. Having heard Urmana’s Kundry, I want no one else’s. And though John Tomlinson cruised sulkily through Gurnemanz and Andersen’s acting matched that of the fish, this is a superb cast under a conductor whose lack of histrionics and sense of translucency and proportion can persuade even the most sceptical listener. How can you rebel against a performance of such ravishing calm? You can’t. Which is why I still can’t bring myself to write that piece about how dreadful Wagner is, and why I might just have to go out and buy a twin set and pearls.

Anna Picard | 16 December 2001

You wait years for a Parsifal, then three come along together, at Christmas. This production at Covent Garden, like the two in Berlin, was of course planned long before September 11. But maybe the opera’s seamless fantasy of purity and danger, where macho (or male) aggression both risks destroying itself and lives in fear of destruction by female degeneracy (or women), is resonant when an apparent fool who espouses conventional piety is the nominal leader of the most powerful country in the world, while the leader of the global bad guys is apparently highly educated but driven to fanaticism because he doesn’t fit in with the way things are (though the Taliban’s misogyny is also reminiscent of that of the Grail Knights). Parsifal claims the fool can win, provided he is uneducated enough not to succumb to liberal arguments, for example, about not harming wild creatures. But Wagner also depicts, in detail and at length, the pain involved, for the fool and for those who encounter him, to the point where compassion for the right people takes precedence over the wisdom it is supposed to bring, and suffering seems to be desirable because it leads to compassion. Like the Christian model of redemption through suffering that Parsifal tries to subsume and transcend, Wagner’s work can be both repellent and profoundly moving at the same time.

Klaus Michael Grüber ‘s production at Covent Garden (shared with the Teatro Lirico in Madrid) presents a different kind of mercy by being almost completely free of such thoughts. Grüber and his collaborators seem to see Parsifal as a Nordic literary fairy story, where the characters are underwritten to leave for the pseudo-mythology and grand situations. The sets for the first and third acts — austere trees and a meadow with melting snow — indeed looked decidedly Tolkeinish, while Klingsor’s realm was beneath the sea, and the flower maidens lay on their sides and wafted beneath Miró-inspired shapes. (A note in the programme refers to Paul Klee, but the colours were those of Catalunya.) The total visual effect was almost embarrassingly sparse — only an elegant near-monochrome reproduction of the Last Supper for the end of act 1 had any impact — but it left space for the music, and for the performers, who looked exposed, small and utterly human, though many of them simply played types in a world dominated by the divine presence of the music, leaving a sense of something missing.

The exception was John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz. He was utterly sympathetic but also expressed awareness of the divine in every note, most wonderfully at the end of his great first act narrative where the fool theme emerges from his music. Tomlinson is singing the same role in Berlin, and is in less than perfect vocal shape, but (as long as he’s not actually damaging his voice by singing) his rough patches and thin high notes seemed to work as part of his character’s sadness, though there are moments, for example, in his Good Friday music, when you want beauty that wasn’t there on the first night. Violeta Urmana is also commuting to Berlin as their Kundry, but her voice is in superb condition. She was sympathetic as Kundry, but perhaps the production gave her too integrated a personality, so that she lacked outbursts of passion and instability that would have given her more dramatic impact. This was even truer of Stig Andersen as Parsifal: his singing was fine, and he looked the part, blond and amiable, but there was only one thing to him. Except that he wore green in the first two acts and black armour in the third, you wouldn’t have known that he was meant to be massively transformed.

Thomas Hampson’s first Amfortas in the house was one of the main points of interest about this production, and he was landed with its one silly gimmick, a floor-length false arm with a hexagonal wheel on the end. He too sounded terrific, but somehow not in extreme agony. Even the greatest singer can only do so much, and the production didn’t provide a context for the total horror of what Amfortas goes through.

The other main point of interest was Simon Rattle’s too rare presence conducting opera in London. The orchestra clearly responded to him, and the music was generally focussed, perhaps a touch incense-scented at times in the first act, but always rich enough to fill the emotional space left by the etiolated production.

Willard White’s sinister Klingsor, the chorus, knights, esquires and vocally gorgeous (if sartorially wishy-washy) flower maidens were all nearly impeccable. It would be great to see this ensemble in a production that understood that Parsifal is a Gesamtkunstwerk, not a comic strip with a sound track.

H.E. Elsom | London Covent Garden 12/08/2001

The New York Times

Flesh-and-Blood Intimacy From Wagnerian Granite

Walking along the festive Saturday afternoon streets of Covent Garden — rock bands, African dancers and roistering pub crawlers — and into the pious, ecstatic world of Wagner’s ”Parsifal” was the shock of human behavior at its two extremes: Bruegel and Dürer separated by the walls of the Royal Opera House.

Something special was happening within those walls, a performance led with tireless passion by Simon Rattle with an exceptional cast of singers in a new production by Klaus Michael Grüber that reduced the monumental to a flesh-and-blood intimacy. Covent Garden’s big reputation makes visitors forget how close and present its stage really is. Mr. Grüber’s ”Parsifal” lets us enter into conversation with Wagner’s otherwise iconic characters, and he has a point. In order to work, symbolism must begin in the real world and then move on; unmoored abstraction floats away.

It was an afternoon when the music critic wished simply to be a listener and let this ravishing music wash over the mind and body. The usual catalog of critical pontifications was made to seem small and beside the point. Wagner’s last opera has been damned for its bleak stretches of long-windedness and its hardly disguised anti-Semitism, but from that first soaring trumpet line emerging from the orchestra to the almost unbearable sweetness of the conclusion five and a half hours later, ”Parsifal” is resisted by few. Within the opera, the sorcerer Klingsor has rendered Amfortas helpless. Wagner does the same to us.

Mr. Grüber has let the intimacy of the house decide what this ”Parsifal” would be. Sir Simon’s orchestral sound surrounds the theater. Pageantry and processionals are done away with. The gatherings of the knights avoid the use of solemn march. Amfortas, played to the hilt by Thomas Hampson, arrives under his own power (barely), rendered livid by Vera Dobroschke’s lighting and supported by a strange sleeve-like crutch with a wheel at its end.

In Gilles Aillaud’s designs, knights sit at a long, straight table pushed to the front of the stage. They arrive and leave singly and otherwise pose as if for another ”Last Supper” by Leonardo. As in other productions, the trees of Gurnemanz’s forest reassemble themselves as the pillars of Grail Hall. The Grail itself exhibits no technicolor effects. Amfortas holds it in his hands and asks us to imagine its special properties. Men in armor glide on hidden trolleys. In the final scene, armor and men separate, the first propelled by choristers pushing from behind.

Klingsor’s castle is the domain of a rock collector, but these vividly colored specimens are outsized and suspended in air; a stuffed shark, teeth bared, hangs overhead. If evil is banal, as the thought goes, maybe it has bad taste too. The transformation to a magic garden brings another set of brightly colored suspensions: Miró and Keith Haring taking the form of Calder mobiles. Parsifal’s dying swan is a fluttering white sheet. If people in this ”Parsifal” are unusually real, their surroundings are not.

Gurnemanz (John Tomlinson) and Kundry (Violeta Urmana) are set close in our midst in order to tell their long stories. Mr. Tomlinson is bluff and forward and tires toward the end, but in character, Gurnemanz himself is not that young. Never will we get to know Kundry better than in a setting like this, and Ms. Urmana makes her worth knowing. The musical detail and the caring, thoughtful theatrical inflection are touching, especially when couched in this sure and resonant voice.

So neutral are the costumes of Moidele Bickel that we are almost invited to ignore them. Parsifal (Stig Andersen) is got up unfortunately as a kind of hospital orderly, and given Mr. Andersen’s unprepossessing figure, the results are unbecoming. Mr. Andersen continues, however, a long tradition of Wagner performances in which the quality of music making overides what the eye does not wish to accept. Swathed in a luxurious bathrobe and perfectly cast, Willard W. White makes a splendid Klingsor. Sir Simon’s command and intensity brought it all together. Weary but victorious, the Royal Opera’s orchestra made it to the end.


Of the many exciting new productions at Covent Garden this season, Simon Rattle’s Parsifal, remarkably his first Wagnerian production at the House, indeed his first performance there for over a decade, was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of the year, and was reflected in the scrum for last minute tickets. Was it, however, likely to be as good as the Proms concert performance of the Netherlands Opera staging of this supreme Wagnerian masterpiece a year ago, conducted by the same maestro, or, indeed, his original production in Rotterdam some time before that? Well, yes and no. There can be no adequate replacement for a good, staged setting of such a seminal opera as this, however expensive it maybe to put on in these straitened times of ours: and yet the immense expectation for this Covent Garden Parsifal was only realised in part, after the staggering Proms achievement of a year ago.

These opening reservations should not detract from the fact that here was a conductor on top form, directing a work in which he totally believes. Rattle inspired both his orchestra, and indeed his singers, to new heights of excellence; the orchestra sounded more like their colleagues in Vienna, than the common or garden pit bands that we are often used to. The sheen of the string line was quite remarkable, while the brass were wholly secure, from first note to last. I have never heard the ‘Vorspiel’ played with such ethereal rapture, and the Motet of the Sacrament, that of the Grail (or the ‘Dresden Amen’), and finally the Motet of Faith – all were intoned solemnly by the tutti brass. One can only wait, in scarcely concealed impatience, for Rattle’s ‘Ring’ Cycle (scheduled for Aix). But it will be a foolish record company that does not take the opportunity to set down Rattle’s remarkable Parsifal in the near future, which must rank with Karajan’s legendary 1980 reading, amongst the greatest of the last fifty years.

The cast were a mixed blessing, I’m afraid: this is not to say that, overall, the line-up was anything other than stellar, but there were some singers who acquitted themselves better than others, and when comparison is made with previous Parsifal performances, then the Covent Garden cast do suffer somewhat. Both John Tomlinson and Thomas Hampson were outstanding as Gurnemanz and Amfortas. Some criticism, from various quarters, have dismissed Tomlinson, a fine actor, as having been left with nothing to do but sing out his part, while the American was reduced to ‘pulling faces straight out of a Mary Pickford film’. This is a little unfair, since the basis of the opera is essentially static, with only the occasional descent into cataclysmic excess. Hampson’s portrayal of the Sick King was, in fact, quite superb, bringing out the physical and mental agonies he must undergo, until a hero might be found to restore his health and reunite the Grail and the Lance. I had not seen Hampson on stage before, but his performance has left me wanting to seek out further examples of his art. In the second act, Williard W. White was excellent as the sorcerer Klingsor, evil magician personified, as he tries to exercise control over the errant Kundry: it was just a shame that by the final curtain, White had already upped sticks and left the building.

The major difference, surely, between the second and third acts must be the inner conflict within Kundry herself, between the Repentent and the Seducer, and with Violeta Urmana, I think that a little was lost in her portrayal of the fallen woman. According to the stage directions she appears at the beginning of Act II dressed, not as a wild horsewoman, dishevelled and in loathsome drapes, but as a beautiful temptress, clad in oriental finery. Yet Urmana turned up in precisely the same, rather anonymous, outfit that she had worn in Act I. I know that the finances at Covent Garden are in a parlous state, but surely somebody could have forked out the money for a change of costume for the poor girl (compare this with Cosi fan Tutte at the House a few weeks ago, when the young lovers needed no further invitation to appear in a new outfit, especially if it was designed by Giorgio Armani). In fact she appeared desperate to avoid getting her new frock dirty and the writhing around that we were so looking forward to in Act I just did not happen. Ms Urmana has a decent delivery, but I failed to detect very much in the way of acting ability on the basis of this performance. Once again, compare Petra Lang’s wonderful acting at the concert version of Parsifal last year: with Ms Lang, one can hear the battle raging in her soul, between good and evil, between Christianity and Paganism, and Ms Urmana was ordinary by comparison.

Again, Stig Andersen was a tenor I had not previously seen on stage: he had, as I remember, played Siegfried in the Royal Opera trip to the Albert Hall a couple of years ago in the complete ‘Ring’ cycle, where reviews had been decidedly mixed. Andersen’s is an interesting voice, but once again, his acting ability let him down, and far too often he was rooted to the spot, like a latter day Pavarotti, rather than risking any foolhardy attempts at dramatic involvement. The comparison with Poul Elming, in last year’s concert performance, does him no favours at all.

The minor roles were taken by the usual Covent Garden stalwarts, and there was not a weak link in their armour: Susan Gritton and Leah-Marian Jones were suitably enticing as the Flower Maidens, and Geraldine McGreevy, making her Royal Opera debut, was especially fine. The production was predictably abominable, with Klaus Michael Gruber winning the dubious honour of uniting the whole House against his ridiculous notions: but then anyone who sat (or indeed stood) through sixteen hours of Wagner, in Haitink’s ‘Ring’ Cycle for Covent Garden a few years ago, with that nasty, cheap and misogynist ‘interpretation’ by Richard Jones, will be well nigh immune to anything that such ‘modernist’ artists can throw at us. To illustrate the point: can anyone tell me the reasoning behind the shark hanging from the rafters in the second act, in Klingsor’s Magic Garden, for I should love to know: it is all just a little fishy for my taste.

Simon Rattle’s achievement in this most supreme of Wagnerian masterpieces cannot be doubted: one may carp and criticise about incidental matters of the cast needing to act as well as sing, and remembering all too well the Rotterdam Opera visit to the Proms last year: indeed, one wag suggested that Parsifal at Covent Garden was a concert performance in costume, while the Albert Hall was the other way around: but I could not be so cruel. This was, afterall, a fairly wonderful evening in Bow Lane.

Ben Killeen

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Verlebendigt Parsifal», Hand aufs Herz, das ist doch oft ein Problem. Lange, sehr lange; erhaben, sehr erhaben – und darum hie und da ein wenig auf die Augenlider drückend. Nun gab es allerdings eine Aufführung von Richard Wagners Bühnenweihfestspiel, bei der davon keinen Augenblick etwas zu spüren war. Nicht in Berlin, wo Claudio Abbado als Vorbereitung auf die Neuinszenierung, die Peter Stein im März 2002 bei den Salzburger Osterfestspielen herausbringen wird, eine konzertante Wiedergabe von «Parsifal» dirigiert hat. Sondern in einem Haus, das in der jüngeren Vergangenheit eher durch umstrittene Bauprojekte, durch Geldschwierigkeiten und rasante Wechsel in der Direktion als durch künstlerische Leistungen auf sich aufmerksam gemacht hat.

Dass dieser «Parsifal» in der Königlichen Oper am Covent Garden London zu einem von A bis Z spannenden Abend geführt hat, geht in erster Linie auf Simon Rattle zurück. Satz für Satz war da zu verstehen – nicht weil der Text in englischer Übersetzung über dem Bühnenportal zu lesen war, sondern weil der Dirigent die dynamischen Verhältnisse ausserordentlich geschickt kontrollierte. Immer wieder liess er dem Orchester freie Fahrt, so dass die Farbenpracht zu voller Blüte kam und die instrumentale Textur zu der ihr eigenen Bedeutung fand – und das Königliche Opernorchester agierte dabei auf einem Niveau, das ihm keineswegs mehr selbstverständlich ist. Immer wieder verordnete er im Orchestergraben aber auch so viel Zurückhaltung, dass die Sängerinnen und Sänger ohne Anstrengung durch ihre Partien ziehen und jene Art gehobenen Sprechens pflegen konnten, das Wagner vorgeschwebt hat. Er ist also sehr wohl möglich, der für das Musikdrama konstitutive Dialog zwischen dem Vokalen und dem Instrumentalen – und er ist möglich, ohne dass sich das Orchester hinter einem Paravent zu verstecken hätte. Selten genug ist das zu erfahren.

Gründlich hat Simon Rattle der Partitur aber auch jene statuarische Erscheinungsform ausgetrieben, die mit dem «Parsifal» so sehr verbunden scheint. Langsam und feierlich das Grundzeitmass – und wie langsam es war, darüber konnte man im Vorspiel zum ersten Aufzug staunen. Darauf aufbauend öffnete sich jedoch ein ganzer Fächer an Tempoveränderungen, an organischen Beschleunigungen und unmerklichen Beruhigungen. Was zum Beispiel Thomas Hampson mit seinem samtenen, geschmeidigen Bariton ermöglichte, das Leiden des Amfortas als ein menschliches glaubhaft zu machen. Und John Tomlinson, dem vielfach erprobten Wotan, erlaubte, die Figur des Gurnemanz mit einer Wärme sondergleichen zu versehen. Mit Stig Andersen war ein Parsifal am Werk, der über einen schlanken, obertonreichen, eher lyrischen Tenor verfügt, so dass der kindlich naive Zug in seiner Rolle besonders heraustrat. Etwas einfarbig blieb einzig Violeta Urmana, die weder das Verführerische noch das Hysterische in der Partie der Kundry prononciert zur Geltung zu bringen vermochte. Dennoch lebte der Abend auch szenisch von klaren dramatischen Profilen, was nicht zuletzt der Personenführung von Klaus Michael Grüber in den moderat verfremdenden Bühnenbildern von Gilles Aillaud und den vergleichsweise traditionellen Kostümen von Moidele Bickel zu verdanken ist.

Peter Hagmann | 31.12.2001

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A production by Klaus Michael Grüber (2001)