Kent Nagano
Festspielchor Baden-Baden
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
4/6/8 August 2004
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
AmfortasThomas Hampson
TiturelBjarni Thor Kristinsson
GurnemanzMatti Salminen
ParsifalChristopher Ventris
KlingsorTom Fox
KundryWaltraud Meier
GralsritterJohannes Eidloth
Taras Konoshchenko
Stage directorNikolaus Lenhoff
Set designerRaimund Bauer
TV directorThomas Grimm
Mostly Opera

Recorded live at the Baden-Baden Festival House in August 2004, this Nikolaus Lehnhoff production has also been seen at the English National Opera, Liceu Barcelona, San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera, Chicago.

Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff, a former assistant to Wieland Wagner, presents a both fascinating and original interpretation of Parsifal: We are in a post-apocalyptic world. Living within bare concrete walls, pierced at one point by a meteorite, the “Knights of the Holy Grail” symbolizes a closed (religious?) community – originally perhaps intending to do good, but now rotten to the core. They do not venture into the sun outside, where creatures like Kundry (a feathered bird) and Parsifal (sun-burned in ragged clothes) come from. In fact, the outside sun here serves as symbol of the Holy Grail.

Personally, I imagine these Grail Knights to represent a closed community surviving in a post-atomic wasteland, where venturing outside equals dangerous exposure to the sun due to the diminished size of the ozone layer. In this context, it makes sense that the shell-clad Titurel (old enough to have been outside) appears from beneath the ground to implore the small community of survivors to reveal the Sun. Many interpretations are possible, I suppose.

Where exactly Klingsor fits into this picture, I am not sure: He appears within the bone structure of a human pelvis, indicating a metaphysical as opposed to real presence. Subsequently the Kundry-bird gradually sheds a giant shell to seduce Parsifal, who in the end has a real fight with Klingsor involving a real wooden spear. In Act 3 we are back in the concrete wasteland, the Grail Knight Community is dying from within, the members wearing white and grey bandages. After curing Amfortas in the end, Parsifal chooses to leave this sickening community (by a railroad appearing on stage) led by Kundry and followed by some of the knights, while the remainder of Knights gather around Gurnemanz, the apparent new leader.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff writes in the program notes: “After the mass destruction the last survivors, and thus the last humans, slowly begin to communicate across the ruins. Just like Parsifal and Kundry, they try to find, feel and share love and compassion once again”.

A very strong cast was assembled for these performances: Waltraud Meier remains an astonishing Kundry, having brought this role to an entirely new level during the last 25 years as documented on several CD- and DVD-recordings. Matti Salminen is a commanding presence as well as vocally secure as Gurnemanz. Christopher Ventris, a both physically and vocally convincing Parsifal, is matched by Tom Fox´ fine Klingsor. Thomas Hampson may seem a bit underpowered as Amfortas, who is portrayed as weaker than often seen, but at repeated viewings, his portrait has grown on me and I find it quite fitting to portrait a leader of a sickening cult.

Kent Nagano draws a fine and lucid performance from the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, which also continue to gain weight after repeated listening.

A relatively tedious 30 minute documentary accompanies the DVD explaining the storyline with clips from the production. For those unfamiliar with the opera, it may be worthwhile, though.

In summary, an innovative Parsifal staging of high musical quality. For the moment, probably my favourite choice among commercially available Parsifal recordings on DVD, although those inclined towards more traditional stagings may opt for the 1982 Wolfgang Wagner Bayreuth production or the Levine-conducted, though dusty Metropolitan production (also with Waltraud Meier), both of fine musical quality.

But the search for the optimal Parsifal DVD is still not over. I continue to hope for a Barenboim release.

The bottom lines (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Waltraud Meier: 5
Christopher Ventris: 4
Matti Salminen: 4-5
Tom Fox: 4
Thomas Hampson: 3

Lehnhoff´s staging: 4

Kent Nagano: 4

Overall impression: 4

30 March 2008

Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s re-interpretation of Wagner’s religious festival play is controversial. In notes accompanying this 3-DVD set, he says that “Parsifal is an endgame in the wasteland,” and that “Wagner’s music mercilessly tells of total loneliness, of living in an empty world stripped of all its former meaning.” Indeed, there is less concentration on the Christian aspects of the work here than in any production I’ve encountered, as if religious conventions and the holiness associated with those conventions are now beside the point: Gurnemanz and the Grail Knights have lost touch entirely with pure spirituality and are bound only by meaningless ritual, crippled and greedy.

The sets and costumes by Raimund Bauer and Andrea-Schmidt Futterer, respectively, work ideally with this conception. We are in a gray, barren, post-apocalyptic landscape, filled with scraps and rotting (and overturned chairs, for some reason); an inexplicable boulder (meteorite?) juts from the rear wall in Act 1. The ashen, stone grayness of the “look” is highlighted only by Kundry’s splashes of color (Klingsor’s costume also is bright and colorful, but it’s ridiculous and doesn’t tell us anything); she looks like a wild animal at times, and later, like a penitent, in white.

The third act features more barrenness, but with a railroad track snaking toward the rear of the stage, where there is a white light. When the Knights want Amfortas to uncover the Grail, they attack him like an angry mob; they care nothing for him as anything other than one who performs the rite. He cradles his father’s corpse in his arms lovingly and longs to leave the Knights–his death is a joy for him because he’ll be escaping the vulturous, meaningless brotherhood. His wound may be healed, but he dies peacefully, first putting his crown on Parsifal’s head. Parsifal, needing no accoutrements of piety, removes the crown and gives the spear to Gurnemanz, so the latter can continue, with the living dead that the Grail Knights have become, to uphold old, outdated values that have nothing to do with the living. And Kundry does not achieve the peace-in-death she has asked for throughout the opera; rather she leads Parsifal up the tracks to the light–presumably a better future–as the curtain falls.

Whether you agree with it or find it heresy (Wagnerian or otherwise) doesn’t matter; it is enormously effective. And musically it is brilliant, with only an exception or two. Kent Nagano takes quick tempos, getting through Act 1 in an almost-record 96 minutes. The one miscalculation in the act is the Transformation Music: it is too fast, almost a jaunt in the park rather than torturous. It’s nicely presented, though, with Parsifal and Gurnemanz moving slightly in place while shafts of light move in rhythm around the stage. Nagano gets the Orchestra to shimmer in that special Parsifalian way–when Gurnemanz recognizes the changed Parsifal in the last act, there is a glow that causes both warmth and a chill. He agrees with Lehnhoff, apparently, and has the chorus sing aggressively when they demand the Grail ritual–it’s brutal.

The cast is splendid. Christopher Ventris may not have a voice that is instantly recognizable (à la Vickers, Kollo, etc.), but his Parsifal is well thought through and handsomely inflected and sung. He acts with dignity and is particularly effective in the final act. Waltraud Meier remains the Kundry for our time (it is her only completely effective role), her stillness as fascinating as her wild moments. Her voice easily encompasses the part and she’s alternately gorgeously seductive and gorgeously crazy. On some level she’s the focus of Lehnhoff’s production–the true sinner who is truly repentant, that is, entirely human. Thomas Hampson’s Amfortas is remarkable. He gets the complexity–the suffering and the rapture–inherent in this character and projects it through movement and facial expressions almost moreso than he does vocally. The voice itself is not what ultimately impresses you.

Bjarni Thor Kristinsson’s Titurel is sung somewhat wobbly, but since the character is here presented as a living skeleton, what were we to expect? Tom Fox portrays Klingsor well despite his silly costume; his self-loathing is as clear as his hatred of others. And last, but hardly least, is the Gurnemanz of Matti Salminen, the voice hardly one of many colors but ideal in this reading. He is strong and pious (albeit emptily) and an un-nuanced character. This is not damning with faint praise; his singing is solid and spotless. The Flower Maidens, entwining Parsifal without ever making physical contact, are excellent.

This is a perfect example of a performance that must be heard and seen, and the camerawork is sensitive and telling, allowing us to read the shadings and changing emotions on the characters’ faces. Picture format is 16:9. The sound is sensational, and listeners’ choices are LPCM Stereo, DTS Digital Surround; there are subtitles in French, English, German, Spanish, and Italian. Features include a cast gallery, illustrated synopsis (skip both) and a series of interviews with Lehnhoff, Meier, Ventris, and others that analyze the production–all interesting but not as riveting as the production. Whether you like the concept or not, it will make you think–and musically, you certainly won’t be disappointed.

Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 10

Robert Levine

This is as lavish and successful a production in all aspects as one could want. Put simply, it is interpretively, vocally, instrumentally, visually and audibly a most impressive performance of Wagner’s final opera. Granted, like so many Wagner productions today, there are a few weird aspects here: Tom Fox’s Klingsor looks more like an exotic clown, almost like a caricature of a character in an Akira Kurasawa film; Titurel is costumed as an ugly reptile; and Kundry’s fur-like, blood-spattered outside, though ingeniously appropriate to her animal-like writhing and generally outcast character, looks a bit unsettling at first, somewhat out of place. Also, in the last act there are railroad tracks leading toward light, which, at the end, Parsifal and Kundry depart on toward some unknown destination.

While all the principals sing impressively in this recording, it is conductor Nagano who is the hero here. His generally brisk tempos, unerring sense for drama and his ability to point up crucial orchestral detail impart a feeling of urgency, of tension, of passion to the proceedings. The more ponderous approaches are less effective for me. This opera is long and ponderous enough, and though there is much depth to plumb, the tempos, to me, must move along. Some may prefer Karajan or even Knappertsbusch, but I’ll take Nagano and this brilliantly colorful production.

As suggested above, the singers are quite good, with the four principals – Christopher Ventris, Matti Salminen, Waltraud Meier and Thomas Hampson – coming across especially well. Recorded live at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, on August 4, 6 and 8, 2004, this production is one of the finest of any opera on DVD. If you love Wagner, you’ll want this splendid recording. Highest recommendations!

Robert Cummings | Copyright © 2005

Opera Today

In 1881 Wagner and his wife were discussing the myth of Eros and Anteros, and Wagner remarked, “Anteros is Parsifal.” Wagner considered Parsifal a figure opposed to sexual love, Eros’s opposite.

But maybe he didn’t imagine a staging of his opera quite as anti-erotic as the Badener Lehrstück version found on this DVD. This is an impressive performance. Nikolaus Lehnhoff places the opera at the burnt-out end of the road: a railroad track breaks off in the middle of nothing; the floor of the Grail castle curves up steeply at the back, until the chairs shoot out directly from the wall—it’s a castle in a different dimension, unavailable to human beings. The Grail knights look cadaverous in Act 1, and in Act 3 are dusty remnants of cadavers. Amfortas is a single big wound, wrapped in mummy bandages; Titurel is a figure from nightmare, a skeleton in chain mail, his hands mere phalanx-bones tipped with long claws. The inspiration for the whole production seems to be T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a poem in which elements from the story of the Fisher King and the Grail Knight are perched uncomfortably on a ruined industrial landscape, where the river sweats oil and tar, and the taxi throbs and waits.

If Klingsor’s magic garden is magical, it is a sour sort of magic. The Kabuki Klingsor inhabits a sphere, as if he were in a subspace of his own, yet another orthogonal from the plane of reality; his castle is a magnified female pelvis-bone, a sort of Bowel of Bliss. The flower-maidens wear unadorned shifts, flowery only in that the sleeves crescendo out into great bell; Kundry herself is almost immobile, encased in a carnation-ball of petals; slowly she divests herself of her costume, unburdens herself of the director’s system of metaphor, becomes an urgent, furiously sexy presence. When the castle collapses, some bits of rubble fall on the stage, but since the stage has been basically rubble from the opera’s beginning, the presence of yet more dreck is not strongly felt.

This is Nietzsche’s dream production of Parsifal, stripped of most of the Christian elements that he loathed. When Parsifal enters in Act 3, he stalks in all in black, wearing a harness of arrows arranged in a fan, and a helmet of raven feathers, as if he were both St. Sebastian and hell’s own Papageno (that pure fool of another age). Wagner asks him to transfigure and be transfigured; but Lehnhoff offers him little of either, though he allows Parsifal to assist the death-eager in the process of dying.

The singing is good, especially Waltraud Meier’s alert, beautifully felt Kundry, and Christopher Ventris’ smartly foolish Parsifal. Thomas Hampson’s voice is a little soft-grained for Amfortas, but he is, as usual, good to hear; Matti Salminen is authoritatively irritable as Gurnemanz; Bjarni Thor Kristinsson—strong, not at all aged, with a kind of beyond-the-grave heartiness—makes more of Titurel than I would have thought possible. The Blu-Ray image is sharp—seeing the production with such clarity seems to intensify the intelligence of Lehnhoff’s extremely intelligent design.

Daniel Albright | 13 Jul 2010

This is a fascinating interpretation of the Parsifal legend. Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production may be known to English readers from ENO. In Lehnhoff’s eyes, ‘Wagner’s music mercilessly tells of total loneliness, of living in an empty world stripped of all its former meaning’. The Knights of the Holy Grail ‘have over time lost sight of their roots’; most tellingly perhaps, Lehnhoff tells us that, ‘Parsifal is an endgame in the wasteland’. Gurnemanz symbolises all that is old, believing in the strength of the rituals that used to work but now are spiritually empty.

Interestingly, in Religion and Art, Wagner himself says that, ‘One might say that where religion becomes artificial, it is reserved for art to save the spirit of religion by recognising the figurative value of the mythical symbol … But religion has sunk into an artificial life when she finds herself compelled to keep on adding to the edifice of her dogmatic symbols, and thus conceals the one divinely true in her.’ So music, then, is to be religion’s saviour, to realign it with the spirituality it has lost.

The world of this Parsifal’s Act 1 is barren. A rising stage – at the time when I saw this at the Coliseum I just thought it was part of that house’s then penchant for all things sloping – and a piece of rock that juts out from the wall: a meteor, possibly, part of the ongoing destruction of the physical as a mirror for the spiritual decline? To set the scene (and so much more), the Prelude needs a real sense of the mystical; great things are, after all, afoot. Nagano however leads a nicely together rendition, with nicely balanced brass. Yet is it clear that we are entering a holy land of the ideas, a land where faith is nevertheless in crisis? Listen to Goodall’s recording and the answer is self-evident.

Gurnemanz is Matti Salminen, dressed in sack-cloth. With his squires placed in the form of a triangle (representing the Trinity, presumably) he greets the day,. This Gurnemanz is a man of true faith, and Salminen reiterated this by vocal inflection; the way he emphasises the second statement of the word ‘eines’ at ‘Es hilft nur eines, nur eines’. A Redeemer is called for, yet it is Kundry who enters. She is dressed, in this production, as a human bird; she does, figuratively, fly in at speed. Yet do I not remember seeing – I do not have the score to hand – an instruction that she should be clad in snake-skin?. Certainly it would make sense to make a link between shedding skins as she has shed lives; more of that in Act 2 of course. Musically Meier gives a rather lyrical reading of some vital lines. Her ‘Sind die Tiere hier nicht heilig?’ is defensive rather than attacking, for example.

Salminen’s long narratives are expressively delivered and with real structural awareness – thus his ‘O wondervolle, heilige Speer’ has real cumulative impact. His diction is well-nigh faultless.

Amfortas is Thomas Hampson, acting, correctly, as if unbelievably weak, yet his ‘Durch Mittleid wissend’ is simultaneously full of hope. Again, his robes are plain – the crown presumably came from Oxfam.

Christopher Ventris enters every inch the boyish fool, painted as a warrior on his face. He cannot see that he has done wrong in killing the swan, and yet he is about to embark on his journey of self-realisation. To him initially it is just another animal, yet to the knights the swan is holy, just as the dove is – at Jesus’ baptism the Spirit of Christ descended in the form of a dove. Birds are thus a direct representation of high spirituality hence Messiaen’s fondness for our feathered friends. Parsifal is, if you like, starting with a blank sheet, and boy can Vetris’s face imply this.

The Transformation Music is visually manifested by shafts of light around the stage. Parsifal and Gurnemanz remain stationary, swaying in one place as if walking. The rock in the wall rotates too.

For the ‘service’ Parsifal watches from the side-lines. Not only does this imply his lack of understanding, it also physically breaks the symmetry of the rite in progress, a lovely way of expressing the processes at work here. Parsifal wanders around curiously as the Grail is uncovered. Titurel (Kristinsson) is depicted as a living skeleton, an image that stays with the viewer long afterwards. If only Nagano’s conducting had invoked the state of real majesty here – this can be an imposing sight, yet the feeling of greatness of interpretation remains missing.

Act Two is a magnificent piece of music. I wonder to this day at the structurally interruptive nature of the Herzeleide Narrative. It is an aria in all but name and a tonally-sectioned-off piece. In Schenkerian terms, this represents a descent from 5 to 2, with the dominant note of 1 reinterpreted harmonically to allow the drama to move on. Klingsor is Tom Fox dressed almost like an insect and thereby bringing back memories of a recent DVD of Madama Butterfly I reviewed. Kundry wears a skull-cap and black perhaps to contrast with her later seductiveness. However what is really impressive is Meier’s singing. Her range is huge … and it needs to be for this part! It is certainly believable in this production that Parsifal could resist the Flower-Maidens; their costumes of extended arms to resemble flower parts is distinctly un-sexy. Kundry is another matter. Here she emerges from behind a screen, as if shedding an existence in the process.

Nagano paces this act well, from the lullaby-like two-in-a-bar of ‘Ich sah das Kind’ (what a high register from Meier here!) to the subtle emphasis on the Spear motif in the horn as she asks Parsifal, ‘What else brought you here but the wish to know?’. The Spear in the orchestra provides the answer.

Interestingly, the kiss that forms the height of her seduction – and enables Parsifal to feel the wound of Amfortas in his side – comes too late. Musically it comes at precisely the moment when a major triad is recontextualised to sound as a dissonance – because a diminished seventh has assumed by this time normative status in our hearing. Good, though, that Kundry sheds her final layer just as the chalice-music is heard, and that her wing comes off at the word ‘Erlöser’ (‘Redeemer’). Needless to say Kundry’s massive leap – high B flat to low C sharp if memory serves – on the chilling world ‘lachte’ (she saw Him on the Cross and laughed) is spine-chillingly superb.

Production-wise the gross error is that at the end of the act Klingsor is meant to throw the spear at Parsifal, and it hovers above its target. Here the solution is much more mundane: Parsifal just takes it off him!

Nagano seems to raise his game for Act 3’s magnificent Prelude. A sloping stage and a railway track to (apparently) nowhere, with Kundry in a bundle at the end of it is the fittingly austere setting. She sings her one word in this Act (‘Dienen’ – ‘Serving’) with appropriate numbness.

Parsifal enters with the Spear, dressed all in black armour. Gurnemanz (Salminen) is generally excellent in this act, although his scoop up to ‘Heil dir, mein Gast’ is surprising. But the triumph for the production is that when Parsifal reveals himself he does indeed appear changed; and how holy the music sounds as Gurnemanz kneels in front of the spear (‘Höchstes Wunder!’). But Salminen is no Robert Lloyd (to mention a recentish Gurnemanz that impressed), and his longer narrations do not carry the same sort of weight. And if Nagano paces the act well, giving enough space, he does little more than that.

This is a harrowing last act, with Titurel’s skeletal figure mixed in with corpses in an onstage pit. Amfortas is convincing in his refusals to open the Grail, and as he memorably puts the crown on Parsifal’s head at the moment of death provides a moment of real tenderness.

Well worth watching and listening. This is an interesting take on one of the greatest dramas ever written.

The ‘extra’ is a 75-minute film called ‘Parsifal’s Progress’. This includes extended excerpts from this production as well as interviews (Meier speaks in German) with the principal singers. There are commentaries on the production, choreography etc. Interesting, certainly, but the production itself is far more stimulating.

Colin Clarke

Parsifal est déjà bien représenté sur support vidéo avec plusieurs captations de qualité, dont celles du Met de New York ou de Bayreuth, qui brillent tant par la qualité de leurs productions que de leur distribution. Voici celle du prestigieux Festival de Baden-Baden, qui collectionne les manifestations musicales, tant concerts qu’opéras, de la plus haute tenue. Elle ne dérogera pas à la règle avec de nombreux atouts en sa faveur.

L’Acte I de l’opéra est presque, par définition, celui de Gurnemanz. Il y tient en effet une place essentielle non seulement par sa présence et par son chant, mais aussi par le poids dramatique et narratif du personnage.

Cela constitue un atout quand il s’agit de l’immense Matti Salminen. Ici comme ailleurs dans le répertoire wagnérien, il se montre absolument idéal de sobriété, de tenue vocale et sa présence scénique est d’une force souveraine. Son chant est admirable de part en part et, si la voix est d’une beauté flagrante, on touche aussi à la perfection lors de chacune de ses interventions. Nous nous inclinons, loin de toutes les affiches et de toutes les publicités faites autour des artistes à la une de l’actualité, devant l’un des plus grands chanteurs de notre époque, une des plus belles voix qu’il soit donné d’entendre. Le jeu scénique de Matti Salminen est également convaincant, emprunt de solennité autant que d’autorité naturelle alors que le chanteur n’est pas doté d’un physique particulièrement avantageux qui mettrait en avant quelque trait de sa personnalité. Il est en fait avant tout puissant par le seul poids de son chant, par la merveille de sa ligne vocale, son articulation, sa gestion du souffle et ses accents dramatiques.

  À ses côtés, la distribution n’est pas en reste. Amfortas chanté par Thomas Hampson est la superbe figure déchirante d’une douleur sclérosée dont il souffre tout le long de l’opéra jusqu’à son dénouement. Hampson est en grande forme vocale, son timbre est idéal plus encore que sa tessiture pour ce rôle. Il joue parfaitement le martyre même si sa superbe musicalité n’atteint pas celle de Matti Salminen.

Bjarni Thor Krisitinsson chante un Titurel puissant, habité par son personnage, et sa belle voix de basse épanche un chant généreux, incarné et sombre.

Bien sûr, Waltraud Meier dès les premières et rares phrases de l’Acte I, incarne une Kundry luxueuse. La chanteuse connaît bien ce rôle qu’elle a interprété et enregistré plus de 25 ans auparavant, à Bayreuth en 1985 sous la direction de James Levine. Elle allie toujours une voix d’une singularité plastique à une présence dramatique pleine de sincérité et d’authenticité. Au terme de l’Acte I, on a hâte de l’entendre, dans “l’autre monde” – celui de Klingsor – dans l’immense duo de l’Acte II avec Parsifal où, dédoublée, elle incarne somme toute un autre personnage, celui d’une Kundry fastueuse servie comme toujours par un timbre d’une magnifique plastique, rare et personnelle. Son chant mêle à nouveau une subtile maîtrise du texte musical à un sens dramatique inné. Klingsor est confié à la puissante basse Tom Fox. Il incarne un personnage tourmenté et rugueux que son timbre acerbe, clair et magnifiquement projeté ne trahit pas. Son chant, plus que l’aspect visuel qui lui est dévolu ici, évite toute caricature et se distingue nettement par son caractère propre du reste de la distribution, dans le respect de l’écriture.

Enfin, Christopher Ventris est un Parsifal vocalement idéal. Ce musicien de tout premier plan confirme une distribution vocale proche de la perfection. Le Britannique incarne et possède la totalité des caractéristiques du helden ténor wagnérien, cette typologie vocale appropriée à la couleur requise pour chanter les rôles si singuliers de Wagner, et plus tard de Strauss ou Schönberg (Gurrelieder). Il se montre irréprochable tout au long de l’Acte II et, à l’Acte III, plusieurs nuances et splendides intentions musicales, évoquent le chant idéal lui aussi de Ben Heppner.

L’ensemble des seconds rôles est plus que correct, notamment pour la périlleuse introduction de l’Acte II et son sextuor des filles-fleurs, et ne déséquilibre aucunement une distribution remarquablement réussie.

  Le Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester de Berlin, la troisième formation – et pas la moindre ! – des orchestres de la capitale allemande, dispense tout au long de la partition une belle sonorité concentrée, souple, efficace et juste. Toutefois, mais cela est probablement dû à la direction de Kent Nagano, il ne souligne pas le mystère profond par le truchement alchimique parfois magique qui habite, par exemple, l’extraordinaire Orchestre de la Radio Bavaroise de Munich dans le même répertoire.

Dans le mystérieux, singulier et lent déroulement de l’Acte I, Kent Nagano ne parvient pas totalement à faire briller l’étincelle magique qui nous plonge avec ce Wagner-là, dans un monde mystérieux. Les tempos sont plutôt justes et les équilibres parfaitement respectés, mais c’est peut-être au niveau des sonorités globales et du climat que les limites de son engagement se font sentir. Il prouve pourtant dans l’Acte II, plus abordable dans son débordement de sonorités sensuelles, que sa personnalité musicale peut apporter quelque chose à une lecture du chef-d’œuvre de Wagner. L’essai sera en quelque sorte transformé à l’Acte III, sorte de synthèse des climats musicaux précédents, avec cette lumière sonore spécifique, singulière, voire unique qui irradie la conclusion de l’opéra.

Reste la production et la lecture de Nikolaus Lehnhoff.

L’Acte I, certes efficace, présente une scène bien peu séduisante sur les plans poétique et visuel. La lecture dramatique est d’une facture classique plutôt sans surprise et donc sans véritable dimension. Quant au décor, il n’exprime ni grâce ni mystère. Mais la présence centrale de Matti Salminen (Gurnemanz), nous l’avons déjà dit, habité par la grâce du théâtre comme du chant, sauve l’entreprise.

Le second Acte, dans un élément scénique identique, affiche tout d’abord un squelette de bassin au sein duquel Klingsor projeté en son centre, apparaît comme une sorte de magicien bouffon. Les filles fleurs affublées de manches allongées (en improbables clochettes de muguet) ne sont ici qu’un groupe uniforme sans grand pouvoir de séduction visuel.

Apparaît enfin Kundry au milieu d’un cocon boursouflé avant d’en sortir en une vision qui tient à la fois du papillon et de la femme fatale. Au beau milieu de tout cela Parsifal, comme à l’Acte I, cherche une véritable dimension scénique, affublé du même costume dont on ne peut souligner ni la pertinence ni le bon goût. Mi-homme des cavernes, mi-chasseur du Nord Canadien, voire Davy Crockett, la proximité de la caméra sur lui comme sur l’ensemble des costumes des personnages, ne joue pas à son avantage. La fin de l’Acte II, qu’on rêverait décisive dans son bouleversement tragique, ne crée pas l’événement-clé que la partition et le drame expriment pourtant.

Même sentiment à l’Acte III pour la miraculeuse scène du Vendredi Saint, dont toute dimension poétique ou sacrée est hélas absente.

De fait, on flirte en permanence avec un goût douteux, plutôt laid, sans accord avec aucune dimension dramatique ou stylistique. Dommage car avec une telle distribution vocale, on était proche de la réussite totale.

Note générale: 9/10

Gilles Delatronchette

Durant l’été 2004, le scandale provoqué à Bayreuth par le Parsifal de Christoph Schlingensief avait quelque peu tamisé la lumière qui émanait de celui que Nikolaus Lehnhoff proposait à Baden-Baden. Heureusement, Opus Arte comble cette injustice avec le son et l’image qui font sa réputation.

Fidèle à son habitude, Lehnhoff porte sur les personnages et leur évolution un regard dont la pertinence n’égale que l’intelligence et la perspicacité. La direction d’acteurs, très inspirée, les décors (un sol incliné, devenant au bout de quelques mètres le mur de fond, qui revêt différents aspects pour chaque acte), les lumières et les costumes accentuent les contradictions des caractères, créant un monde incertain, trouble, délabré et malade.

Conception qui force parfois le metteur en scène à prendre quelques libertés avec le livret. Ainsi, le final, où Parsifal (qui n’aura pas été convaincu par l’éloquence de Gurnemanz, et qui préfère céder la couronne au défunt Titurel) et quelques chevaliers du Graal délaissent la lance pour suivre Kundry, qui ne meurt pas (ici ce sera à Amfortas de périr, selon son propre souhait, après tout), et chercher la vérité ailleurs que dans la religion. Mais au bout du compte, nous assistons ici à un travail fascinant, parfois peu orthodoxe mais parfaitement assumé avec un panache et un esprit d’analyse qui va toujours de pair avec une beauté plastique indéniable, et une humanité touchante des personnages.

A la tête du Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, excellent, Nagano donne dans une épure pieuse et stylisée, très chic, qui émerveille lors des préludes mais qui se fait un peu vite oublier une fois les caméras braquées sur les chanteurs. Il faut dire qu’avec ces chanteurs-là…

Christopher Ventris reste certes un peu guerrier, même dans les angoisses métaphysiques de son personnage où certains de ses collègues pourraient s’avérer poètes, ou philosophes. Mais une telle solidité, une telle santé pour ce rôle, c’est déjà bien beau. Dans son numéro de roi déchu et névrosé, qu’il peut rendre un rien excessif, Thomas Hampson est toujours aussi bluffant. Matti Salminen, avec ce timbre magnanime (et à peine usé, malgré la soixantaine), ces dons de diseur exceptionnels et cette présence imposante, est un Gurnemanz grandiose du début à la fin. Klingsor, enfin, est chanté, phrasé, nuancé (youpi !!!) par le très bon Tom Fox.

La palme revient pourtant à Waltraud Meier. On a beau connaître cette Kundry qui, depuis déjà plus de vingt ans, fait délirer le public des plus prestigieuses salles, on ne s’en lasse jamais. Animale au I, femme fatale au II (cette scène de séduction ; anthologique !), femme blessée au III, où elle captive l’image, même si elle n’a que deux mots (et encore, un mot répété deux fois), deux gémissements et un cri à pousser, son personnage est d’une intelligence, d’une finesse et d’un magnétisme sans égal…à genoux !

En complément, des bonus avec des interviews de chanteurs (sauf Salminen, tous les rôles principaux y passent), de Nagano et surtout de Lehnhoff, dont le discours est aussi clair et intelligent que le travail.

Dans un prétendu désert wagnérien, un DVD réconfortant, qui rassure et donne l’espoir ; et si c’était ça, le Graal ?


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1920×1080, 13 Mbit/s, 20.0 GByte, 5.1 ch (MPEG-4)