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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Recordings Review: The Blood is the Life

The Met broadcast of Parsifal on DVD
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The kiss of life-and death. Katherine Dalayman is atop Jonas Kaufmann in the Met's Parsifal.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2013 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's 2013 François Girard production of Wagner's Parsifal is back on the stage next month. So it's time to revisit the Sony DVDs of the Live in HD broadcast of the opera, filmed over two performances in March of that year. Watched here on two DVDs, this Parsifal remains gripping, a look back at this forward-thinking production which owes something to post-apocalyptic environmental disaster and something to an involved medical procedure show from late-night broadcast television.

This is the staging that starred Jonas Kaufmann in his longest and most prominent role to date at the Met: as the gormless idiot who wanders into the tight-knit brotherhood of the Holy Grail (depicted here as a very rigid gender-sequestered, quasi-religious community) and ends up saving it. Along the way, he encounters the temptress Kundry, the evil magician Klingsor and a collection of spear-wielding flower maidens in long white dresses, who defend a lake of blood.

That shifting, shivering, swelling sea of simulated blood remains the most memorable thing about the Giraud staging. The director combines projections, lighting and carefully textured sets to give the rocks and walls an almost organic feel. Indeed, one could interpret this show as a depiction of the ugly process of treating Amfortas' wound, dealt to the King by Klingsor with the same spear that pierced the side of Christ. Parsifal's mission is to get the spear away from Klingsor and use it to cure Amfortas.

Parsifal (he does not learn his name until the second act) is not the most demanding of Wagner tenor roles, but Mr. Kaufmann is ideal for it. For one thing, he can act, playing the awkward innocent part of the role with a fresh and open demeanor. He manages real heroic singing in the second act, dealing out the gut-busting moments with Kundry with a sure hand. He is expertly supported here by conductor Daniele Gatti, whose overall slow tempi lends to the weight of the proceedings onstage.

An equal partner in carrying that weight is bass René Pape, who will be remembered as one of the great proponents of the long role of Gurnemanz. (He is reprising this part at the Met next month.) In the long, slowly unfolding narrative in the first act, Mr. Pape supplies detail to this sometimes dull stuff with eyes and facial expression that make his storytelling fly by. In the third act, he is convincing as a broken version of himself, only to find his strength on the return of both Parsifal and the spear.

Peter Mattei is an extraordinary, anguished Amfortas  distinguished only from his fellow cultists by the sharp splash of blood on his otherwise pristine shirt. His monologue and celebration of the Grail in Act I is riveting stuff, haunted by the offstage voice of his father, Titurel (Rúni Brattaberg.) (Mr. Mattei is also coming back this season.) As his opposite number Klingsor, Evgeny Nikitin is monotonous and malevolent: the most memorable thing about his performance is that he delivers it covered in stage blood.

There is only one major female role in Parsifal, and Katherine Dalayman plays Kundry to the hilt. She is both the harridan messenger and sultry temptress, singing in a harsh croak in the first act that quickly turns seductive. Her detailed delivery of "Ich sah das kind" is contrasted sharply with the wild outbursts that follow. In the last act, her long dumb-show adds to the resumption of ritual that brings the opera to its end. 

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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.