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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Parsifal: Conducted by Siegfried Wagner

Siegfried Wagner
One of the things I try to do on this blog is share interesting performances I run into on my little excursions on the Internet. This is a recording of an excerpt from Act III of Parsifal made at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1927. The conductor is Siegfried Wagner, the composer's son.

Born in 1869, during the Wagners' "exile" in Triebschen, Siegfried Wagner grew up in Bayreuth. He was 7 when the Ring premiered. And he was just 14 when his father died, leaving his mother Cosima Wagner (née Von Bulow, née Liszt) in charge of the Bayreuth Festival. His mother ran the theater until 1908, when she decided she was too frail to continue. Young Siegfried was 39. He took it over and ran the Festspielhaus until 1930, when he died of a heart attack while working on a new production of Tannhäuser.

>By all accounts, the junior Wagner was an excellent conductor. He also wrote eighteen operas on fairy-tale themes. Some of these have been recorded and are available on CD from the Marco Polo label, which specializes in reviving obscure German repertory.

Richard Wagner made his reputation as a conductor before hitting it big with his operas. However, he was not known for conducting at the Festspielhaus, which opened in 1876 with a team of super conductors: Hans von Bulow, Hermann Levi and Hans Richter, sharing podium duties.

Apparently, Richard Wagner himself took the podium to conduct Act III of Parsifal at the last Festival performance in 1883, the same year he died. Of course there's no recording, but witness commented on the extremely slow tempos and the majesty of the reading.

As Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner and their various descendants and relatives were not known as conductors, there are no recordings of them either--and certainly none made at the Festspielhaus. So here it is. The Good Friday scene from Act III of Parsifal, conducted by an honest-to-goodness member of the Wagner family.

And in a lighter moment.

This is probably a wax recording, as it doesn't have the "scratch" noises associated with cylinder rolls. It was possibly made at a rehearsal as there's no banging from the stage or coughing from the audience.

Then again, there's very little movement in this scene. Gurnemanz stands there and sings, Parsifal sits on a rock and looks holy, and Kundry, who is onstage the whole time but doesn't have any music to sing, mostly spends her time washing Parsifal's bare feet.

The mono sound is a little thin in spots but the master tape has cleaned up nicely (probably a CEDAR treatment) to bring out the slow tempo and clarity of texture--characteristics that have been used by other writers to describe Richard Wagner's interpretation of the same music.

The cast, which features legendary bass Alexander Kipnis as Gurnemanz and Fritz Wolff as Parsifal, sing with exceptional clarity and beauty, and the whole performance has an uplifting, shimmering quality which is present in the best recordings of Wagner's final opera.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats