Parsifal

Reginald Goodall
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Date/Location
5 May 1971
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Cast
Amfortas Norman Bailey
Titurel Michael Langdon
Gurnemanz Louis Hendrikx
Parsifal Jon Vickers
Klingsor Donald McIntyre
Kundry Amy Shuard
Gralsritter Edgar Evans
Dennis Wicks
Gallery
Reviews
ClassicsToday.com

Reginald Goodall conducts this May 1971 live Covent Garden Parsifal with the same rhythmic enervation and indifferent sense of shape that mark his EMI studio version. Slowness is one thing, but dragging is another–or more specifically in Goodall’s case, sleepwalking at the podium. He’ll wake up in time not so much to dramatically build a crucial climax but rather to whip it up from out of nowhere, as with Parsifal’s entrance in Act 1, Kundry’s pivotal Act 2 kiss, or Act 3’s choral rejoinders. Although Goodall’s long experience as a vocal coach enables him to follow his singers’ inflections to a tee, he often fails to lead them when necessary. Listen to the poor Flowermaidens fend for themselves as they bid farewell to Parsifal, and you’ll get what I mean. At the same time, obvious care and consideration informs isolated details, such as the ravishing harp and woodwind interaction at the end of the opera, or in Act 2, the ominous English horn solos.

It’s the singers who save the day, or rather this long evening in the theater. Norman Bailey finds more than mere anguish as Amfortas, while Louis Hendrixx’s beautiful timbre and attention to words distinguish his Gurnemanz. Jon Vickers’ hefty vocalism and strong sense of theater reveal why his interpretation of the title role was highly regarded, and Kundry’s multi-dimensional character comes to complex life via Amy Shuard’s full-bodied portrayal. We also get a taste of Kiri Te Kanawa before she became famous, as her distinct timbre stands out among her fellow Flowermaidens. Most memorable of all, perhaps, is Donald McIntyre’s vividly malevolent Klingsor. Except for occasional low-lying rumbles and piercing sibilants, the archival recording is decent and listenable, though not so bright and detailed as the Goodall Mastersingers broadcast issued by Chandos. The set includes a full libretto with English translations.

Artistic Quality: 7
Sound Quality: 6

Jed Distler

ClassicalSource.com

Here’s a recording of another of those expansive Wagner performances conducted by Reginald Goodall. One’s reaction to it may well be determined by whether you feel that the measured tempo adopted by the conductor enhances or detracts from the dramatic experience, especially without the visual aspect of the performance.

Though this run of performances did not perhaps have the ‘legendary’ status of the Sadler’s Wells “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” this current recording does allow one to register that in many respects the conductor’s approach to “Parsifal” did not change much in the years from this performance to his later ones for Welsh National Opera and English National Opera in the 1980s. Here he has a cast to be reckoned with and which is generally superior to the recording with WNO forces, which adopted the cast of that production excepting that Kundry was sung by Waltraud Meier (in the first of her four commercial recordings of the role).

Goodall’s measured approach to the score is much better suited to the outer acts. The ‘Prelude to Act One’ is well judged, sonically luminous, tension and the necessary sense of timelessness established early. The orchestral players cope well with the demands made on them – although both woodwinds and brasses have occasionally sour or watery moments.

There is much beauty, too, in the passages that accompany Gurnemanz’s long narration and this character’s long-living with the history of the grail and the spear and the events involving Amfortas’s decline. It helps that the Belgian bass Louis Hendrikx has a voice of such colour and resonance and a way with the words that bring these passages to vivid life. The same is also true of the bass-baritone of Norman Bailey – who delivers a long-breathed and coloured account of Amfortas’s contribution. The sorrow, pain and anguish is all there in the voice, and the portrayal is thankfully not over-histrionic. His long experience of singing under Goodall allows him to inflect so much into the text. And one of the advantages of Goodall’s approach is that every word is audible.

Where Parsifal and Kundry are concerned, things become problematic – and this is surely the fault of the conductor more often than not. In Act One we encounter the wild Kundry and the unrestrained, impetuous and unthinking Parsifal – stirred on by his vision of the knights in armour he has seen as a boy. Goodall’s failure to ‘up the tempo’ for the depiction of this moment at “Und einst am Waldessaume vorbei” renders that moment curiously inert. The same occurs when Kundry tells how she rode past the dying Herzeliede.

This tendency to restrain their music is unfortunately carried into the Act Two. There is little of that propulsive quality needed to make Klingsor’s realm seem magical or alluring, despite the wonderfully malevolent presence and biting tone that Donald McIntyre’s Klingsor possesses. On paper the wonderful line-up of flower-maidens (including Kiri Te Kanawa, Anne Pashley and Anne Howells) sounds most appetising but the tempo means that the passage drags and there is not a hint of menace lurking at the root of their vocal cajoling of Parsifal.

Jon Vickers is in direct, plaint and heroic voice, but his reputed stage intensity does not seem to have been allowed full reign on this evening. His German is idiosyncratic. He is more interesting in another live recording on Orfeo, which hails from Bayreuth in 1964 and conducted by Knappertsbusch, who also had a tendency to slowness but Vickers seems more responsive.

Amy Schuard is a vocally strong if slightly edgy-sounding Kundry, better suited to the character’s untamed side than the seductress; a balance needs to be found between these facets to fully realise the complexities of Kundry. In addition, Schuard is taxed by the slow pace of ‘Ich sah das Kind’ and also lacks recklessness for Kundry’s curse at the close at Act Two.

The Chorus is in fine fettle and makes a pleasing sound; these singers’ contribution to the final part of the opera finds them, Goodall and Norman Bailey at their best.

The stereo recording is admirably clear and there is very little intrusive stage noise. Balance between voices and orchestra is extraordinarily fine. As ever with this series, the discs are beautifully packaged. The booklet boasts some amusing pictures, and the text, as well as an interesting introduction to the performance by John Deathridge, which gives a fair assessment of its qualities and deficiencies. Goodall and Bailey admirers will want to hear and own this set; but other versions, including live ones, capture greater theatrical elements to “Parsifal” than does this one.

Alexander Campbell

MusicalCriticism.com

With a running time of almost 4 hours and 45 minutes, this new release of Wagner’s Parsifal, given on 8 May 1971, is over an hour longer than 2 other live recordings I have to hand, and is indeed one of the longest on record. Upon listening to the Act I Prelude, the number of glaringly obvious split notes from the brass can’t help but make one feel a little pang of pity for the audience, knowing they were in for a very long night. But if Reginald Goodall’s quest for an ethereal quiet and stasis made his orchestra tense to start with, by the end of the prelude everybody appears to have settled into the part they have to play in realising Goodall’s vision, and a certain understated orchestral sumptuousness from everybody, including the brass, quickly becomes one of the defining characteristics of this performance. Although an essay in the liner notes that accompany the release, written by John Deathridge, says that ‘it is still difficult to imagine [Wagner] approving of Goodall’s first act, which is surely much too long, and indeed constantly verges on incoherence’, I found that one gets used to the unusually slow tempi fairly quickly, and accepts them, an experience familiar from many of Otto Klemperer’s recordings.

Wagner’s music is of course immensely difficult to sing from many points of view, but one thing it does tend to have is an abundance of places to breathe, which means the slow tempi do not necessarily pose the singers with the problems that might arise were they to be faced with the same situation in Mozart or Verdi. The musical environment created by Goodall therefore allows his artists to create immensely detailed characterisations, which suits this cast particularly well. As Gurnemanz, the Belgian bass Louis Hendrikx brings a beautiful voice, magnificent, elegant gravitas, and something akin to a Lieder singer’s attention to text, although it is interesting to note that Hendrikx in fact sang very few Lieder during his career. His operatic debut came as late as 1963, but he quickly made Wagner the cornerstone of his repertoire and his experience with the role shows in this brilliantly nuanced performance.

Amy Shuard, one of Covent Garden’s post-war resident dramatic sopranos who deserves to be better remembered than she is, presents a Kundry of fascinating depths. The voice is perhaps not as immediately seductive or glamorous as some who have been acclaimed in the role, but she certainly delves into the character and phrases beautifully, rising to some thrilling climactic high notes in Act II.

Like Shuard, the voice of Jon Vickers has been surpassed in terms of beauty by other interpreters of the title role, but Vickers really seems to get to the heart of the matter, as far as one can with Parsifal. Somehow, one always feels he is creating something very specific, be it during the character’s sprawling introspection, active discourse or passionate outbursts. He is on excellent form in this performance in terms of pure vocal production, injecting more colour into his often rather dry timbre than elsewhere in his discography. Vickers is amongst those singers where one is told one had to experience the voice live in order to appreciate its greatness, but it is a credit to the quality and ‘style’ of the sound on this recording that the greatness somehow comes across.

Such illustrious names as Norman Bailey, Michael Langdon and Donald McIntyre round out a cast of principals notable for being what one might call thinking man’s singers. Of the smaller roles, the young Kiri Te Kanawa as the first flower maiden is in such lustrous, fresh voice that the impact is quite distracting, and the other five flower maidens suffer quite badly by comparison, although they do have more of a sense of style than their glamorous colleague. Te Kanawa certainly got noticed in contemporary reviews of the performances, and it is fascinating to have this document of her early years in the Covent Garden ensemble, just months ahead of her shooting to stardom as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro later in 1971.

This Parsifal is not without its idiosyncrasies. Shuard lacks the refulgence of other Kundrys like Gwyneth Jones or Christa Ludwig, and there are Parsifals with more alluring voices, such as James King and Placido Domingo. But I have yet to hear a recording that continues to reveal so much on repeated listening. Vickers, in fairly typical self-congratulatory mode, said in his now famous interview with Brice Duffie ‘I can assure you that the Parsifal at Covent Garden [is] talked about to this day’ and the release of this recording will ensure that his assertion remains the case for a long time yet.

John Woods

Rating
(7/10)
User Rating
(4.5/5)
Media Type/Label
ROHS, Fiori
Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 387 MByte (MP3)
Remarks
Broadcast (BBC Radio 3)
A production by Herbert Graf (1959)