WAGNER Parsifal • Christian Thielemann, cond; Plácido Domingo (Parsifal); Franz-Josef Selig (Gurnemanz); Waltraud Meier (Kundry); Falk Struckmann (Amfortas); Wolfgang Bankl (Klingsor); Ain Anger (Titurel); Vienna St Op O & Ch Read more class="BULLET12">• DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0006574-02 (4 CDS: 242:38 &) Live: Vienna 5/2005
All of Wagner’s operas require a sure hand in the pit: no run-of-the-mill répétiteur will do. But two works, in particular, depend on the conductor as much as anyone on stage for success in performance—Tristan and Parsifal. By choosing these two for the first complete Wagner dramas he’s committed to disc, Thielemann is letting us know just how important Wagner’s music is to him and how seriously he wants to be taken as a Wagner interpreter. With this new Parsifal, the conductor demonstrates that he’s a Wagnerian with a point of view, and a master of the composer’s huge musicodramatic structures.
The act I Prelude is taken at a relatively fast tempo—not rushed, but surely not the agonizingly slow pace that others elect. This serves to eliminate some of the reverential, cult-like atmosphere that cynics have heard in Parsifal (sometimes with good reason) for 125 years, and to underscore that this is a tightly constructed dramatic work that doesn’t need to be considered apart from everything else in Wagner’s output. For once, the Prelude seems to function as an overture, setting the mood and presenting many of Parsifal’s thematic materials, rather than as a ritualistic portal into a sacred rite. The entire first act, in fact, takes a mere 1: 39—it’s not unusual in live performance for it to approach or even pass the two hour mark—and Thielemann deserves credit for keeping the action moving along without diluting Parsifal’s spiritual radiance in the least.
Architecturally, Thielemann also makes the most of the contrast between the heady chromatic nature of the second act and the luxuriant diatonicism of the two that surround it. The transformation music, both times, seems very much a journey as the conductor pulls out all the stops, and the extended orchestral passage in act III, before Gurnemanz recognizes the returning knight, is extremely moving. Thielemann is always alert to details in the orchestration that support the text at the moment—for example, in act I when Klingsor’s music is brought to the fore as Gurnemanz mentions the character only as “das jener Böse” (“that evildoer”).
A second major strength of this release, beyond Thielemann’s leadership, is Waltraud Meier’s Kundry. Meier may be the finest exponent of the role around now. (She impressed earlier this year at the Metropolitan Opera in an all-star cast that also included Ben Heppner, René Pape, and Thomas Hampson. If you do video and don’t mind some peculiar costumes, investigate Meier’s Kundry in the Parsifal conducted by Kent Nagano on an Opus Arte DVD, reviewed in Fanfare 29:2.) Meier embodies all the wretchedness and desperation of the character and, in act II, her seductiveness evolves into something like hurt and genuine emotional need.
Siegmund and Parsifal are the only Wagner parts that Plácido Domingo is able to execute in the opera house at this stage of his career. As an artist, Domingo has such enormous integrity that it’s certain he will not sing these roles a moment beyond which he can do them justice. In May of 2005, four months after completing his studio recording of Tristan for EMI, he clearly still had the goods. The high notes (there’s nothing over an A in Parsifal) don’t ring out as they did a decade or two ago, but never does his singing sound forced or strained. Domingo wonderfully reveals his character’s metamorphosis from impetuous youth to enlightened hero. The tenor, with Thielemann’s knowing support, assures that the dramatic fulcrum of the opera is the moment of self-discovery after Kundry’s kiss in act II.
Franz-Josef Selig’s Gurnemanz is very good as well, despite a tendency for slight swells on sustained notes. His voice is expressive, losing just a little of its satisfying resonance in the upper range. Falk Struckmann is a versatile Wagnerian: his roles include Wotan, Telramund, Kurwenal, and Gunther. Amfortas is a tough nut to crack—the character must generate both sympathy and disgust in the listener—and Falkmann does a pretty good job of it, thanks to his powerful vocal instrument. The Klingsor, Wolfgang Bankl, sings with a coolness and determined incisiveness that’s perfectly suited to his embittered world-view. Ain Anger’s Titurel sounds appropriately old and tired.
The choral work is excellent, both in the Hall of the Grail and in Klingsor’s realm, and the orchestra plays superbly. The recording presents very good vocal/instrumental balances, with orchestral sound that is solid, warm, and slightly opaque and appealing wind and string sonorities. The “Parsifal bells” are perfect, sonically distant and a tad indistinct in pitch, with a halo of harmonics. Stage noise is minimal, limited mostly to a certain amount of clanking when all those Ritter are arriving on the scene in acts I and III. There’s an annoyance for those who want to follow translations as they listen: toward the end of act II in the trilingual libretto, the German texts become displaced from the English and French versions, which remain in synch. No big deal, but in a product that’s brought off so nicely in most other ways, it’s a minor disappointment.
Wagnerians should not hesitate to acquire this Parsifal.
Parsifalby Richard Wagner Performer:
Inna Los (Soprano),
In-Sung Sim (Bass),
Nadika Krasteva (Soprano),
Daniela Denschlag (Mezzo Soprano),
Janina Baechle (Soprano),
Waltraud Meier (Mezzo Soprano),
John Dickie (Tenor),
Peter Jelosits (Boy Soprano),
Placido Domingo (Baritone),
Franz-Joseph Selig (Bass),
Ain Anger (Bass),
Simina Ivan (Soprano),
Ildikó Raimondi (Soprano),
Falk Struckmann (Baritone),
Wolfgang Bankl (Bass),
Benedikt Kobel (Tenor),
Antigone Papoulkas (Soprano),
Bori Keszei (Soprano)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna State Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1877-1882; Germany Date of Recording: 06/2005 Venue: Live Vienna State Opera, Vienna Length: 232 Minutes 32 Secs. Language: German
Average Customer Review: ( 4 Customer Reviews )
A superb recording of a superb piece of music.December 17, 2014By Richard C. (Lancaster, PA)See All My Reviews"This is a superb recording of a superb piece of music. And, ArkivMusic is a great source. Nothing more needs to be said!"Report Abuse
A Rival for KarajanMay 21, 2013By Martin B. (Lower Hutt, Wellington)See All My Reviews"I was unsure what to expect from this recording, with all the weight of expectation at the name of Domingo. But I was gratified to find that, as ever with Wagner, that the orchestra and conductor are the decisive factor - and Thielmann and the Vienna State Opera deliver. Perhaps Karajan's singing cast was finer across the board, despite the obsessive concerns about Peter Hofmann by some critics. Domingo is outstanding, Meier even better.....and that orchestral playing! I would have given this 4.5 stars, on the basis that nothing is perfect, but either way, it is very fine and a long-awaited rival to the other DGG version."Report Abuse
Thielemann's superb reading September 21, 2012By Rory R. (Winnipeg, MB)See All My Reviews"Everyone should listen to this recording, even if you have a favourite performance of the past. Thielemann's measured, yet intense, calm yet passionate, beautifully crafted performance brings out the score's spiritual longing perhaps better than anyone. It isn't a strikingly 'dramatic' performance, but the conflicts, which in Parsifal are mainly inner turmoils, are simply and eloquently displayed. No need to add to the praise for Meier; this is arguably the finest Kundry recorded, and Domingo makes you wish he had sung more Wagner in his career. At this stage of his long career, it suits him perfectly. It's a performance which you may find haunts you for days after in a quiet way."Report Abuse