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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Parsifal

The most eagerly anticipated Wagner event of the season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Knights of the Holy Grail congregate in Wagner's Parsifal. 
Photo by Jean-Louis Fernandez © 2012 Opera Lyon, courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera has always had a special connection with Parsifal, Wagner's final opera. From the "bootleg" performances of 1903 (the Met was the first opera company to challenge the composer's decree that his "stage-consecrating festival play" should only be performed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus) to Otto Schenck's picture-realist production of the 1980s, this opera has always had an important place at the Met.

In February, the company unveils a new take on the myth of the pure fool, the wounded king and the Holy Grail, with this stark, unusual staging by François Girard. Sere landscapes and a (literal) ocean of blood are the dominant visual images in what the director has described as an "environmental" take on this mystic drama. The production, which bowed in March of 2012 at the Opera Lyon received good notices. Only the wisest fool knows how conservative New York Wagnerites are going to react.

The Met has assembled a very strong cast. Jonas Kaufmann sings his first Parsifal in New York, opposite the Kundry of Katherine Dalayman. Peter Mattei is Amfortas, the wounded King of the Grail whose injury stands at the center of the opera's plot. René Pape makes a welcome return to the role of Gurnemanz, the wise old knight who provides much of the exposition...when he gets around to it. Daniele Gatti conducts.

Parsifal opens Feb. 15. All evening performances start at 6pm.


Recording Recommendations:
The Redeemer knows that I've written a lot about Parsifal over the years on this blog. It's one of my favorite operas. So you can check out reviews of recordings by Valery Gergiev, Sir Reginald Goodall, and Marek Janowski.

Or you could just buy one of these:

Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus 1962 cond. Hans Knappertsbusch (Philips/Decca 1962)
Parsifal: Jess Thomas
Gurnemanz: Hans Hotter
Amfortas: George London
Kundry: Irene Dalis

"Kna's" '62 recording turned a half a century old last year. This four-CD set has never left the catalogue. Whether the copy you buy is on Philips or Decca, it remains the best Parsifal on record: a slow, majestic performance that pulls you into this opera's mystic sound-world. Sure, there are a few coughs and mutters from the audience, but that only lends to the feeling of sitting in the theater that Wagner built, listening to the one opera that he actually orchestrated specifically for that building. On a good pair of headphones, you are there. The cast is uniformly excellent, and this is Jess Thomas' finest four hours on disc.


Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus 1970 cond. Pierre Boulez (DG, 1970)
Parsifal: James King
Gurnemanz: Franz Crass
Amfortas: Thomas Stewart
Kundry: Gwyneth Jones

Pierre Boulez went from declaring that he wanted to blow up all the opera houses to succeeding Hans Knappertsbusch as the regular Parsifal conductor at Bayreuth in 1965. Five years later, the French conductor/composer showed that there was more than one way to conduct Parsifal. He takes brisk, almost effortless tempos that bring the opera in a tight (and numerological 3:38:38). Yet Mr. Boulez never sacrifices mysticism for narrative drive. He also has a great cast, with Dame Gwyneth Jones as an hysteric Kundry and Thomas Stewart as the suffering Amfortas.

Return to the Superconductor 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.