Parsifal

Peter Schneider
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Date/Location
15 May 2006
Metropolitan Opera New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
AmfortasThomas Hampson
TiturelRobert Lloyd
GurnemanzRené Pape
ParsifalBen Heppner
KlingsorNikolai Putilin
KundryWaltraud Meier
GralsritterDimitri Pittas
Jordan Bisch
Gallery
Reviews
Financial Times

Wagner called Parsifal a “stage-consecrating festival play”, and most companies these days apply modern sensibilities to the complex narrative. Some adapt abstraction, others impose stylisation. Some focus on symbolism, others invoke sociological, even political commentary. There can be more here than meets the ear.

One would not have guessed that on Friday at the Metropolitan Opera, proudly regressive haven of pretty-postcard literalism. The production dates back to 1991, and it looked old- fashioned then. With quaintly innocent direction by Otto Schenk (reproduced by Zoe Pappas) and kitsch décors by Günther Schneider-Siemssen, the drama remains stubbornly though neatly decorative. Wagner’s convoluted flights of mystical mumbo-jumbo, his painful pieties and lovely longueurs are recreated on face value, for better or worse. Probably worse.

At least the music-making is strong. With James Levine still recuperating from shoulder surgery, Peter Schneider has been drafted to hold the vast sprawl together. His may not be the most poetic Parsifal in memory, or the most heroic. Still, this savvy old pro knows how to sustain order and balance, even a reasonable facsimile of tension, in the long run. And this run is very long.

Few contemporary opera- houses, including sacrosanct Bayreuth, can muster a better cast than the one assembled here. Ben Heppner, apparently recovered from the vocal problems that marred his recent Lohengrin broadcast, sings Parsifal (Lohengrin’s father) with ease and urgency. The fearless Waltraud Meier returns as a staggeringly incisive Kundry. René Pape brings such bel-canto finesse to the ruminations of Gurnemanz that one overlooks his excessive doddering in the last act. Thomas Hampson exudes towering sympathy in the noble agonies of Amfortas. Cast as the evil Klingsor, Nikolai Putilin grumbles mightily in a language that sometimes resembles German. Robert Lloyd, Gurnemanz in 1991, sounds properly spectral as Titurel. In the best of all possible operatic worlds, these good people would work with an inventive director, one who actually entertained some ideas about Wagner, the Holy Grail and Parsifal.

Alastair Macaulay | May 16, 2006

New York Times

The Pageantry of Wagner in ‘Parsifal’ at the Met

In the dark days before CD’s, DVD’s and bootleg boutiques, piracy of intellectual property thrived, though on a more primitive scale than today. In 1903 the Metropolitan Opera was itself a culprit in the “Case of the Pilfered ‘Parsifal.’ ” Wagner’s soaring crypto-religious pageant, in gestation for more than 30 years and finished in 1882, was to be a kind of house opera: its performance restricted to the composer’s own festival in Bayreuth, Germany; its function, a vernal reawakening in music and stage pictures, somewhere between a church service and an ancient rite of spring. Not incidentally, tourists would come to see it, bolstering the economy of Bayreuth, not to mention that of Wagner’s soon-to-be-widowed wife.

Conscious that international copyright laws had shorter arms in those times, the Met defied the embargo. Cosima Wagner sued but lost. The righteous among the world’s opera houses howled, but stopped howling when exclusive rights to “Parsifal” expired 10 years later, making the opera available to them as well.

The Met, as it has so often in the last 103 years, returned to the scene of the crime on Friday night, bringing with it a cast of improbable depth and eminence, splendid orchestral playing guided by Peter Schneider and chilled and misty forest settings designed by Otto Schenk. “Parsifal” deals in Teutonic knighthood, Christian relics (the spear of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Holy Grail), a disgraced and wounded king, evil incarnate in the person of Klingsor (to many, a scarcely disguised symbol of anti-Semitism) and a pure fool whose peregrinations of self-discovery will heal them all. Recent Met audiences have become accustomed, if not addicted, to the fluid, almost physically sensuous “Parsifal” of James Levine, now injured. Mr. Schneider, filling in, conducted with more angles and, in general, a more sober sense of probity, all the while in absolute control of the Met orchestra’s transparent sound and subtle responsiveness. Born in Vienna and active in Germany, he should appear in New York more often.

The role of Kundry is that of a lone woman surrounded by men, but Waltraud Meier made it the star turn of the evening. Known as volatile both onstage and off, Ms. Meier is suited to the part, propelling herself into it like a wide-bore, high-explosive cannon shell. This was singing of fierceness and fearlessness, all of it pertinent to the persona she represented. Ms. Meier gives all and takes risks, and her audience went crazy for her.

As Parsifal, Ben Heppner, though a little dry in Act I, sang himself into the kind of voice that has made him our reigning heldentenor. It was also interesting to hear a young sound emerging from the mouth of the traditionally decrepit Gurnemanz. René Pape’s calm, luxurious command wiped away all traces of the boredom some singers can attach to the part. Thomas Hampson has made something of a specialty of the agonized, desperate Amfortas. Nikolai Putilin was the bald and bulky Klingsor. Robert Lloyd sang Titurel.

It would be customary to say that the five hours flew by. More accurately, this astonishing music made its listeners slower: captive to a different and stretched-out time scheme. Some “Parsifal” addicts want it not to end at all, to go on all night. For them there is the consolation of a residue we take home with us, a physical sensation that can resonate inside the head for days.

BERNARD HOLLAND | MAY 15, 2006

New York Post

MET’S ‘PARSIFAL’ WORTH A LISTEN IF NOT A LOOK

WAGNER’S “Parsifal,” which returned after a three-year absence to the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night, with a great cast headed by Ben Heppner, Waltraud Meier and Rene Pape and conducted with measured sensibility by Peter Schneider, is the composer’s last opera and arguably his greatest.

It also casts a searchlight on all that is right and, interestingly, all that is wrong with Richard Wagner. In his efforts to combine the theater arts into one unified expression, he became his own dramatist and worst enemy.

He even called “Parsifal” a “play in three acts.” Unfortunately, he was as poor as a dramatist as he was great as a composer. His concept of good and evil lacks what could be called Miltonic grandeur, his religiosity is egregiously suspect, his band of Teutonic knights are little more than comic-book superheroes half a century before their time, while his ideas of human love could only be embraced by a priest or psychiatrist.

For the singers, this is not all bad. This esthetic imbalance between what is being acted and what is being sung can work magically to their advantage.

The first time I saw “Parsifal,” the hero, Wagner’s “perfect compassionate fool,” and that tormented heroine Kundry, played by Set Svanholm and Kirsten Flagstad, respectively, were dramatically preposterous yet vocally radiant.

“Parsifal” only works because of the music – its shimmering chromaticism, shifting tonalities, stealthy rhythms and vocal lines that interweave in a fashion no one else has quite achieved either before or since.

Today, Otto Schenk’s 1991 staging, with its slight nod to the immediate post-war Bayreuth stagings favored by the composer’s grandson Wieland Wagner, remains excellent, even agreeably conservative, and is beautifully supported by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen’s sets and mutating projections.

This season as Kundry, the German mezzo, Meier, is superb in a role she has already recorded three times. Her top register was perhaps more expressive than beautiful, but her charting vocally of the character’s tempestuous ambiguities is superb. Heppner, singing his first Parsifal for the Met, has a steady heldentenor voice of power and purpose, although perhaps his tone seemed brighter a few weeks ago as Lohengrin.

So – and this is arrant heresy to perfect Wagnerites – forget the story, forgive the symbolism and settle down, ears open, emotions at the ready. Here come all 5½ hours of “Parsifal.”

Clive Barnes | May 15, 2006

Rating
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User Rating
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Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 335 MByte (MP3)
Remarks
In-house recording
A production by Otto Schenk (1991)
Peter Schneider replaces James Levine who had an accident.