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G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 05/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The best and most moving Parsifal you will see.
Matti Salminen is simply terrific as Gurnemanz. While the voice may be a hair less gorgeous than 20 years ago it is wanting for nothing. Salminen remains a formidable stage presence and his grasp of Gurnemanz is complete. Even a slight grandiosity and arrogance in Act I cannot diminish the role's sincerity. Even as he watches the Grail Ceremony this Gurnemanz gives off an aura of superiority - even over Amfortas and Titurel. His transformation in the third act - fervent, wise fervor and in his wisdom, possessor of a truly inspiring humility and sense of order. It is a miracle of a performance . . . just amazing from every aspect.
Christopher Ventris is the most remarkable Parsifal I've encountered and plays him exactly how I've always felt the role should be played. This Parsifal is a wild child/animal boy in the extreme and Ventris looks terrific in his amalgamation of skins, sticks, enormous leather breeches, face paint and thick-as-rope coils of dreadlocks. Initially I had reservations about his sound - light textured . . . almost boyish - but my, oh my how this singer captures this character in every nuance and gesture, facial expression and body language and movement. Indeed Ventris's rare physicality almost defines the role in its totality. Where most Parsifals in the Act I Grail ceremony are directed to remain still and out-of-the-way, this Parsifal is climbing over every surface of the stage, examining everything and everyone: entranced, amazed and full of awe at the wonderment of all he is experiencing. I can't imagine Ventris's Parsifal being bettered.
Later, following "The Kiss" we witness Parsifal's shock and Ventris makes it a palpable experience of shared epiphany. All is made clear and he knows what he must do and the direction life now takes him. This is, of course, all there in Wagner's score, but Ventris, almost more than any Parsifal I've heard or seen, gets this across and it's an emotional, cathartic moment.
I've always felt that after his feet have been washed in humility by Kunrdy, Parsifal must remain barefoot for the balance of the opera. Too many Parsifals (including the Met's) don him in kingly/priestly garb, and I find this the wrong direction for this character. I've always believed Parsifal should be almost bared at this point - bringing a true sense of humility and openess as the realm of the Grail moves into another dimension, another "being." That Ventris, stripped of armor, and barefoot enters the temple and performs the rites this way is EXACTLY right! (Siegfried Jerusalem's early Bayreuth Parsifal in the late 70's also remains barefoot for the ceremony).
Waltraud Meier knows Kundry better than any singer alive. It might even be called her signature role. While the very top of the voice can be a little wild - tight and constricted - it is only those notes - which she still can it. Actually the upper range of her voice works well and, as already stated, she knows what this character is all about.
A giant giant eggshell/cocoon apparatus comprises the first part of Kundry's costume which dominates and then transmogrifies throughout Act II. Next is an 18th century looking gown, which leaves her inert and unable to move - which is finally shedded revealing a simple (and sweat stained) shift laying Kundry down to her bare essence. Powerful, powerful imagery.
Tom Fox's Klingsor is creepy, larger than life - almost Kabuki in its intensity. Suspended - balanced in some bizarre glass circle above the stage it lends a really sinister air to the proceedings.
Thomas Hampson is just a touch light of voice for Amfortas - but for once, it doesn't matter a whit. He is inside this role and I couldn't keep from crying at the torture - this eternal night of woe this King must endure. Hampson brings a sense of tragic horror to the role that adds yet another layer to this complex character. His sense of wonder and release, finally able to die at peace, released from the curse of his wound is profoundly moving.
I found myself crying - as I have since my first Parsifal at 14 years old. But this time by the end I was sobbing out loud. I probably would have held it together seeing this in the theatre, or in the company of others, but I'm glad I got to watch this all by my self and fall apart just as this work demands of me.
Nagano leads such a magnificent performance with nuances and shading that are rare indeed, not just in Parsifal, but in any work. The responses from the chorus and orchestra - the differences between even pianos and pianissimos is astonishing and add a gauze like delicacy in sections that make the score all the more moving. fair.
I usually prefer my Kundry to die. I don't think it's a Victorian "judgment" call - it's what she wants. It's what she's waited for for centuries. Release and to sleep without waking.
I like the direction Lehnhoff takes this production. There is a sense of having to move on to keep the brotherhood of the Grail alive. We can sense the fetid stagnation of the present condition of the Knights. In the Act I ceremony the contrast between Parsifal - so youthful, so alive - with the Knights grey and stiff, could not be more vivid. Yet, the Grail sustains them still and the beauty of the ritual remains evident and enthralls Parsifal - even without his understanding.
Kundry does not die here, but rather leads Parsifal, and eventually we see the Knights, one-by-one following them down abandoned railroad tracks into the unknown, a procession into another realm, another order as Wagner's postlude offers promise, hope and redemption. An utterly beautiful ending which makes great dramatic and philosophical sense.
How special and rare it is to experience a production of so familiar a piece that continues to work on such a cathartic and profoundly emotional level - yet equally challenges and stimulates the mind as to its meanings.
This may easily be the finest, best produced and most satisfying opera on DVD I possess.
A Postmodern Near-Miss
D. Thomas | Altadena, CA USA | 12/05/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"After reading the other rave reviews here, I was ready to love this DVD. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The singing is generally of high quality, especially Matti Salminen. Waltraud Meier in Act 2 is dramatically very strong. Thomas Hampson's voice is too light for the role of Amfortas, but it works dramatically in the production's overall concept, which is that this king is hated for his weakness. The big letdown comes in Act 3, which simply did not deliver for me. A surprise which other reviewers didn't mention is that Amfortas dies in Parsifal's arms in this production, then Gurnemanz is left holding the spear, while Kundry leads Parsifal and a few other knights down a traintrack. The ending struck me as much more ambiguous than others found it. This is not an apotheosis of radiant healing. Instead, we're given a dark ending to the troubled reign of Amfortas and a movement toward a world outside this kingdom of darkness. Lehnhoff says in his liner notes, "Amfortas' wound is... the wound of civilization." Judging by this staging, it is a terminal wound, and the healing of civilization comes through its own demise. It seems to me, Wagner's music offers a different message. I was able to go along with the postmodern revision of the staging up until the last act, but the ending left me feeling like I'd been tricked by a cynic who was pretending to offer a tale of hope."
A gripping, transforming performance
C. Harbison | Montague, MA United States | 05/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The singing throughout is outstanding: Salminen has rarely been more effective, likewise Meyer, Fox and Hampson; Ventris is a very moving, soft-spoken Parsifal. The various concepts involved in the staging are fascinating (Kundry as redemptive force, etc.) even when they don't totally work (why is Klingsor a kabuki actor?). The end result is just amazingly gripping and makes returning to the traditional Met Opera/Levine staging seem strangely dull and out-dated. Nagano conducts at a speed equal to Boulez which turns the opera from a dirge into a dramatic force."
Interesting Concept Stunningly Executed
Joseph Dodge | Tallahassee FL USA | 09/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The basic idea of this production is that redemption lies in good actions rather than piety and ritual (faith). Thus, we see at the beginning that Amfortas is self-absorbed and left unattended by his followers, the squires are mad at Kundry, Gurnemanz is mad at the squires, everybody is mad at Parsifal, and the Knights of the Grail are only interested in their ritual. Parsifal (in contrast to all other productions I've seen) actually shows a great deal of curiosity during the Grail scene, but "doesn't get it," which is wholly appropropriate, because the point is not the Grail ritual itself but Amfortas' suffering. When Parsifal finally does get it, he becomes the moving force. At the end, after restoring the Montsalvat crew to some semblance of normalcy, Parsifal and Kundry exit, presumably to perform good deeds elsewhere (performing good deeds being the reason why we would care about the Knights of the Grail in the first place). Gurnemanz is left behind as de facto head man.
What is not clear to me is why Kundry not only survives but goes out into the world, and does so ahead of Parsifal. The Kundry character seems to me to have been intended by Wagner as a counterpart to Amfortas. Although it is true that one of Kundry's aspects is to perform good deeds, that was also true of Amfortas before betraying his calling and suffering his wound. And Kundry is extremely passive during Act III. This aspect of the production appears to me to be super-imposed PC. The female principle lies in the Grail itself, which, as at the end of Goethe's Faust, is a kind of prime motivating force. But perhaps this is too abstract or symbolic for contemporary audiences, so that the female presence has to be presented in a more explicit fashion. In any case, no production can do justice to all of the strands in this work. At least all of the characters in this production act believably as human beings, as opposed to being archetypes or mannequins.
The performers are all good to excellent actors. Ventris (new to me) was a great surprise. Waltraud Meier is predictably great (although she was greater in a production conducted by Barenboim on LaserDisc). It's nice to have a Gurnemanz who has the low notes, and a lot else besides. They all sing well, altough Fox is somewhat hard-sounding.
I'd like to praise Nagano's conducting. Yes, it's generally fast, but it is totally unlike Boulez, who I consider to be a dreadful Wagner conductor. Unlike Boulez, Nagano is flexible, allows phrases to breath, slows down or becomes expansive when appropriate, and does not shortchange the climaxes and moments of inward intensity. I like the way the flower-maidens chorus (not a musical highlight, in any event) is rendered, so that it is not sleep-inducing. In any event, Nagano's conducting serves the production. Thus, the opening scenes of Act I, rather than being "dead" (as are usually the case), are full of the energy that is inherent in the human conflicts taking place. Parsifal is a drama after all; the ritualistic aspects of this work are a means, not the end."
Parsifal from Baden-Baden
Liz | 04/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
Magnificent singing from the great Meier and Salminen as well as from (the previously unheard by me) Christopher Ventris. I agree with others here who have remarked on the disappointing lightness of Hampson's voice in the role of Amfortas. Yes, he gives a WAYYYY better performance (he can, after all, carry a tune, for crying out loud!) than that dreadful one by Bernd Weikl on the Met DVD, but anybody who's known and loved the audio versions with Jose van Dam will probably never be satisfied with anyone else in that role. In any case, however, I'd much rather hear an Amfortas with a heftier voice that gives greater attention to the dynamics and really brings out the incredible beauty of his music.
Hampson's acting, on the other hand, was up to the extremely high standard by the other principals.
Oh, and I loved Tom Fox as Klingsor, too.
As to Nagano, I am not convinced that he understands this opera at all. There's just no passion or subtlety or magic to his direction. Competent, yes, but no more than that. I saw him do Parsifal twice this past season in LA and was not particularly impressed, but I thought at the time that the problem sprang more from Robert Wilson's production than from the pit. AFter viewing the DVD, I'm persuaded that Nagano is only slightly less clueless than Wilson when it comes to connecting with the audience in this piece. I'll take Levine, Barenboim, Boulez any day.
The third disc contains a special feature called Parsifal's Progress--interviews and such. It's mostly a lot of drivel, in my opinion. Lots of patter from director Lehnoff and the choreographer about why the flower maidens shouldn't be too seductive (puh-leez!)and why having Kundry and Parsifal walk out of the Grail Castle leading a bunch of the knights along a railroad track is an improvement on--or at least a defensible interpretation of--Wagner's ending. Singers Hampson, Ventris, Meier, and Fox are interviewed, but shed little light on anything and frankly sound like they're blowing a lot of smoke. There was no interview with Matti Salminen. Smart man!
There were many things about the production that I loved, and like at least one other who has posted here, I too was often overcome by the beauty of the singing, acting, and--well, just by Wagner's music. Okay, some of the show was laughable: Meier, for example, in Act II, singing from behind something that looks like a giant pumpkin, then falling to the stage after the kiss and doing some kind of imitation of a broken mechanical toy that can't right itself, then wriggling out of a stiff skirt so that she can finally move normally again. Where, in heaven's name, do they come up with these ideas? It's a testament to her, nevertheless, that she transcends all silliness of staging with the brilliance of her interpretation of Kundry.
Bottom line? I 100% recommend the DVD. The insults to Wagner and to the intelligence of the viewer are not negligible, but don't deny yourself the truly excellent elements of this video.
(On the other hand,if you want something TRULY great, get the Barenboim audio CD with Jerusalem, Meier, and van Dam.)"