This masterful interpretation of German and Christian mythology was Wagner's last opera. Presented on a two-disc set, this performance--musically, a masterwork--resonates with the most profound beliefs of the German "Welta... more »nschauung." Director Hans-Jurgen Syberberg has stamped his own controversial and unmistakable style on the film. Parsifal is a medieval symbol of purity and innocence. Here, the search for the Holy Grail and the king's powerful, sacred spear leads, through a single kiss, to the knowledge and grace of redemption. The actors perform to a recording made expressly for this film, featuring singers Reiner Goldberg, Wolfgang Schone, Hans Tschammer, Yvonne Minton and the Prague Philharmonic Choir, with Armin Jordan conducting the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. 255 minutes. Amfortas: Armin Jordan (sung by Wolfgang Schöne)
Titurel: Martin Sperr (sung by Hans Tschammer)
Gurnemanz: Robert Lloyd
Parsifal 1: Michael Kutter
Parsifal 2: Karen Krick (sung by Reiner Goldberg)
Klingsor: Aage Haugland
Kundry: Edith Clever (sung by Yvonne Minton)« less
"This is not an opera video. At least not in the usual sense, that is, a video of a stage production of an opera. Hans Jürgen Syberberg's film is about Wagner's 'Parsifal', and everything that this unique work evokes in him. In it he explores the associations of this work both backward in time, to the medieval romances of the Holy Grail, and forward through the century since Wagner's death. The film begins, in fact, in the ruins of Monsalvat, a metaphor of the destruction of the Third Reich.Syberberg made his film entirely in a studio, like his previous films 'Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King' (Ludwig: Requiem für einen Jungfraülichen König) and 'Hitler: A Film from Germany' (Hitler: ein Film aus Deutschland). The resources of a film studio allowed Syberberg to film the opera against a constantly shifting screen of references and allusions (such as images from productions of Wagner's works from Bayreuth and elsewhere) shown by front-projection, thus imprinting his own vision of 'Parsifal' and Richard Wagner in a manner of which a stage-director could only dream, whilst also having the other advantage of film, that of showing in close-up the emotion of the opera in the faces of his actors and actresses.The film was issued in 1983 to coincide with the centenary of Richard Wagner's death; and it is as much about Wagner as it is about 'Parsifal'. In fact, Syberberg original intention was to make a film about Wagner, but this plan gradually changed into making a film based around a performance of 'Parsifal', but filled with references to Wagner's life, work and influence.Wagner has always been a present in Syberberg's films, both in 'Ludwig' and 'Hitler' (because of their respective obsession and passion for his music), and of course in 'The Confessions of Winifred Wagner' (Winifred Wagner und die Gesichte des Hauses Wahnfried von 1914-1975), where the unrepentant old lady talks on about the good old days at Bayreuth when the Führer made his annual pilgrimage to the shrine. Syberberg had intended to try to use a recording from a Bayreuth performance as the soundtrack to his 'Parsifal' film, but after the Winifred Wagner film, he was none too popular with the Wagner family, and permission for him to record in Bayreuth was refused. So a new recording of the work was commissioned, with Armin Jordan conducting the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Prague Philharmonic Choir (and, oddly enough, also acting the role of Amfortas!)Syberberg wanted the soundtrack to be a separate entity and to use actors who would mime to the pre-recorded track, reasoning that actors were better capable than singers of giving the facial and bodily expression that film demands, and also wanting, for intellectual and aesthetic reasons, the voice to be separate from the body. However, this was not an absolute condition, and so both Robert Lloyd as Gurnemanz and Aage Haugland as Klingsor both sing and act their parts.Syberberg regarded Kundry as the centre of the opera, and so chose for the part the outstanding German actress, Edith Clever. Her incarnation of Kundry as variously mother, seductress and penitent has been unanimously praised as a performance of hair-raising intensity. Parsifal himself is played by two people, first a boy (Michael Kutter) and then, after Kundry's kiss, by a girl (Karin Krick). Parsifal's sex-change is a coup-de-theatre for which Syberberg gave no complete explanation.The studio set is dominated by a huge replica of Wagner's death mask, becoming a mountain on which much of the action is staged, being Klingsor's tower, the flowery meadow and finally parting in two to reveal (Syberberg's vision of) the Grail.The density of allusion in the film is enormous and too much to comprehend in a single viewing: Caspar David Friedrich, Ingres, Goya, Dürer, Titian, Caravaggio and Bramante all figure in the imagery; the allegorical statues of the Synagogue and Faith on Strasbourg Cathedral are evoked; Amfortas sits on Charlemagne's throne from the cathedral at Aachen; Titurel lies in the crypt of Saint-Denis; a casement of the room in the Palazzo Vendramin, where Wagner died, is used as a backdrop; heads of Aeschylus, King Ludwig, Nietzsche, Marx and Wagner himself lie at the foot of Klingsor's throne; Mathilda Wesendonck and Judith Gautier are glimpsed among the flower maidens; the approach to the hall of the Grail is down a flag-lined corridor -- a procession, backward in time, through the history of Germany into a world of myth. In this immensely ambitious work Syberberg presents Wagner's life, music and thought. He also presents a critique of those same things, whilst mounting a sumptuous and resonant production of the opera that is a feast for the eyes and ears, a true Gesamtkunstwerk, or, as Newsweek said, 'The film performs the extraordinary feat of both splendidly presenting and focibly challenging a consummate work of art'."
Derrick Everett | 04/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If Claudio Monteverdi's "L'Incoronazione di Poppea" could be said to be the first opera, then Richard Wagner's "Parsifal" is the last. If, as an article in The New Yorker would have it, it was Adolf Hitler's inspiration, then no other work of art has had such a profound effect on history. That article described the hypnotic power that Wagner's music had over the young men of the time, and Hitler was one such. "Parsifal" would thus be also the most sublime work of art: profound beauty permeated by hatred and enkindling radical evil. A contemporary critic said that Wagner had reached the limit of emotional intensity in music and no one else would be able to surpass him: opera had attained its final goal of maximum passionate expression.Director Hans Syberberg chose a surreal presentation of "Parsifal" for his interpretation of the opera. He filmed it completely on a sound-stage and based the craggy, rocky set upon the composer's death mask. Wagner's skull splits open to reveal the interior of the castle at Montsalvat and Klingsor's castle; his upper lip is Gurnemanz's herb garden; his eye socket is the sacred lake. Syberberg also plays around with the appearance of the characters: Parsifal changes sex in mid-aria, Gurnemanz is an ageless young man, Kundry has naked hairy breasts in the first act. The set is littered with artifacts from history. The overture opens with a destroyed miniature reproduction of Montsalvat as it appeared in the first performance at Bayreuth. Parsifal approaches Klingsor's castle and passes by Soviet-style monuments and gigantic broken stone phalluses from a Greek temple. The chair that appears in various scenes is Charlemagne's throne from the cathedral at Aachen. Some of the elements of the set seem to be taken from Hieronymous Bosch. Syberberg seems to have scattered all these bits and pieces throughout the film with no overall interpretive purpose and left the audience to sort out the meanings.But perhaps Syberberg intended to overthrow Wagner's unsavory themes - the anti-Semitism and the misogyny - and allow the beauty of the music to triumph by making the sub-meanings of the drama reflect this beauty less contradictorily This seems to hinge upon the changing of the boy Parsifal into the girl Parsifal. The frustrated heterosexual encounter in the second act forms a fulcrum upon which Syberberg balances a homoerotic relation between the boy Parsifal and Gurnemanz in the first act and between Kundry and the girl Parsifal in the third. Parsifal changes sex at the moment he experiences and understands the same pain and longing that crippled Amfortas. Apparently, Syberberg is making a Platonic assertion that sexual desire is an obstacle to true spiritual love, and that this love cannot be experienced between the sexes. This is also to some degree part of Christian theology, and what has been called "a black Mass on stage" the director may have attempted to reconvert into a true Mass.Except for Gurnemanz and Klingsor, Syberberg used non-singing actors for all the roles. The trouble with this is that lip-sync seems to be non-existent, and it takes some time to become accustomed to it. Also, the recording is unevenly mixed. On the plus side, the acting is very good. Amfortas looks like he's really suffering, and Edith Clever is an angry and desperate Kundry. This movie is purposely full of cognitive dissonances, but the one that stands out is the powerful tenor coming out of the mouths of both Parsifals. The conductor moves the music along more briskly than usual, and this is quite refreshing. During the overture, Syberberg uses marionettes, among other things, to relate the story that precedes the first act. Like any great work of art, "Parsifal" can bear many different and contradictory interpretations; Syberberg's is the most fascinating I've seen."
Leigh Ann Hussey | SF Bay Area, CA | 06/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In a previous review, the reviewer mentioned Syberberg's attempts to get past the "mysogyny and anti-Semitism" of Parsifal. If, indeed, Syberberg was attempting this, he succeeded wildly.I had never seen any production of Parsifal before this, though I've heard many, and am (or so I thought) well acquainted with the libretto. But this is the first time it was brought home to me that "the Redeemer" isn't of necessity Jesus. In fact, Jesus is never mentioned by name, and is only directly referred to in Gurnemanz' third act "Good Friday" lecture. In Syberberg's production, "the Redeemer" is mentioned in scenes and times when he could clearly be Parsifal, but he could also be Amfortas whom we see fighting down his pain to perform the Office of the Grail Mass that keeps his father (and the rest of the knights) alive, and even, perhaps, the swan.Syberberg turns the swan which Parsifal shoots in the first act into an icon of everyone wounded in the opera -- Amfortas with the spear wound; Klingsor with his self-inflicted emasculation; Kundry who can find release from suffering only in her death-like sleep; Parsifal with the most subtle wound of all, that of his empathy and compassion.Hearing the tenor voice come out of the mouth of a slender girl was indeed a shock, but I found it a shock that sent my thoughts into new arenas. And quite frankly, the Kundry performance was so powerful that the lip-sync didn't matter in the least.And yes, there were puppets and masks. But the puppetry was absolutely outstanding technically -- the symbolism and power of Japanese bunraku came immediately to my mind. (Did any of the reviewers mention that the puppets were all designed from photographs of the first Bayreuth production?)Everything in the film added to the sense of watching a dream, or being in one. Everyone in the Grail realm seems to be sleepwalking; Parsifal never looks anyone in the eye but is always looking off at something we can't see; the ruins and filmic backgrounds, the prints of the original Bayreuth scenery, the puppet interludes, the languid camera work, all contribute to the surreal, almost hallucinatory sensation.If you want to see an opera-house production of Parsifal, this is not the one to get. But if you're willing to have your eyes opened by a powerful, unique, and above all mythic vision of Parsifal, I can't recommend this film highly enough."
Ray Barnes | Surrey, British Columbia Canada | 04/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I feel reluctant to comment in great detail on whether or not I approve of Hans Jurgen Syberberg's production. The only part of the visual aspect I found rather curious was the showing of Armin Jordan's conducting of the central section of the Good Friday Music (as viewed from the woodwind section) in the background. Wagner wrote the work primarily for performance in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, where the audience has an unobstructed view of the stage and the orchestra pit is underneath it. But perhaps this is a minor point. In terms of sheer sound the performance was very good vocally and orchestrally, and the acting and "stage" effects/sets were successful too. This VHS tape produced very fine audio quality on relatively simple and inexpensive equipment. I must say it is a real pleasure to actually see and hear this opera for about the same price - or less - as a typical CD recording.For those considering an alternative VHS performance that is more mainstream, an actual recording of a live performance in the opera house, I might suggest the Horst Stein set made at Bayreuth with (as I recall) Manfred Jung in the title role, on Philips, or James Levine's set originally performed in 1993 at the Met, available on Deutsche Grammophon Video."
An ineffable experience of a work of genius
Anthony Louis | USA | 07/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Syberberg does with visual imagery what Wagner does with leitmotivs. The result is a work of genius twice blest. Syberberg takes us inside the mind of Wagner and places his Christian-Buddhist Shopenhauerian masterpiece Parsifal in the context of Western political and intellectual history. The use of actors properly cast for their pasts avoids the often odd visual effect of a singer who does not look at all like the role he or she is playing. Sometimes the lip-synch is out-of-synch, and there are occasional vocal lapses in the singing, which is generally excellent. The sound quality of this 1982 movie is quite good and well reproduced on the DVD. Wagner's message of compassionate wisdom as the basis of morality comes clearly through. One can see why the Nazi hierarcy banned this opera from being performed in Hitler's Germany, since Wagner's championing of the Buddhist idea of compassion for all is so extremely at odds with the Nazi worldview. This is a wonderful movie whose powerful images, both visual and musical, will stir the deepest human emotions. Anyone who loves Wagner's music and enjoys great cinema will want to view this movie. It is one of the great artistic achievements of the past few decades."