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Wagner: Parsifal (Nagano) (UK) (DVD Details)

Unique ID Code: 0000070857
Added by: Alan Titherington
Added on: 3/5/2005 01:54
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    Wagner: Parsifal (Nagano)

    9 / 10


    A performance of Wagners`s last opera from the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus, conducted by Kent Nagano, and produced by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. The disc also includes a 75 minute documentary, `Parsifal`s Progress`, in which members of the cast and production team very helpfully explain what is going on, and why the production is as it is.


    The video quality over the three DVDs in the set is generally excellent (despite what seems to be a little `patchiness` in the darkness of the orchestra pit) and the performance is presented in a region free 16:9 anamorphic transfer and NTSC format. This isn`t the most colourful of stage settings, mostly greys and browns, but everything appears clear and when there is colour, then it appears much more striking.


    We have a choice of LPCS stereo or DTS. Both are quite adequate for the music, however, I preferred things after altering my speaker system to `phantom surround sound` which seemed to clarify a lot of what we hear. In general the large orchestra appears to have `miked-down` so as not to compete too much with the singers, (coming into its own in the Preludes and long orchestral passages) , but this is one great advantage of DVD over watching a live performance - however a live performance is always going to be preferable in the end of course!


    This set comes with an informative booklet (with regards to this particular production) in English, German and French, containing the usual cast list and scene directory (a little unhelpful in this respect as the scenes are marked out by a snippet of libretto rather than by numbers AND libretto). This is a very minor quibble though. Subtitles (very handy in cases like these!) come in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. Menu options are uninteresting but easy to navigate.


    Discussing `Parsifal` (and I suppose this goes for opera in general) in any detail is going to sound pretentious but I make no excuses here, it being one of the the most powerful pieces of music theatre written.

    It is not a barnstorming piece full of singalong arias and set-pieces, and to be honest, very little of Wagner`s output is like that. It is a semi-quasi-religious (pretentious enough yet?) music-drama which is set in a world where humanity has lost its way; where religious sects and other cults follow pointless and empty rituals, the origins and intentions of which have been long-forgotten and all ideas of doing good for mankind have been lost. Any redemption must come from within, rather than from any supernatural force.

    Characterisations are generally well done, and the producers seemed to have had the pick of the crop when it came to singers, but I would hope that this would have been the case as it`s a production shared by some of the best opera companies around (including English National Opera).

    Christopher Ventris (Parsifal - the innocent, who through experience - mostly of Kundry - comes to realise his destiny as `saviour`) is a fine lead, and makes the journey from being an innocent fool to Redeemer of the Grail Knights a convincing one. There is no sense of tiredness by the end, although I suspect the cast may have had more of a break than in a normal theatrical performance.

    The highlight though has to be Waltraud Maier`s performance (Kundry - the woman who laughed at Christ on the cross, and is damned to walk the earth for ever). This role is one of the most gruelling Wagner wrote, as Act 2 calls for a completely different vocal style from Act 1 (it`s almost as if it was written for two singers). Meier is superb, and and when necessary is as piercing as a soprano gets, and at other times, wonderfully angelic - quite appropriate for this role.

    Matti Salminen (Gurnemanz - the `chief` Knight) has a voice which is able to shake the room when necessary, and quite often does in this performance, but judging from this DVD, any acting ability has flown right out of the window. There is nothing at all in his eyes (apart from a damn fine impression of Clement Freud at times) and though perhaps this may not have mattered much to an audience, when the camera is often in your face, it`s rather important to the home viewer. I was almost wishing he would do a couple of cartwheels across the stage to prove he was actually alive.

    Thomas Hampson (Amfortas - the King, with a permanently open wound inflicted by the spear which was used upon Christ on the cross) is the most active on stage, and also the most convincing on camera. The impact upon him every time the Grail ceremony is enacted (the wound opens up again, despite the fact that his Knights are given a longer life at the same time) is tangible. Again, I have no quibbles about the singing.

    Tom Fox (Klingsor - a `wannabe` Knight who can never join the brotherhood as he is too sexually charged - a `problem` he has attempted to solve by castrating himself) makes a fine villain, although again, the close up camera-work spoils it a little by making him look like a mixture between Gary Oldman`s and Mr. Burns` Dracula. It`s not the largest role ever created, but what it lacks in music, Fox certainly makes up for in dramatic urgency, meaning that a few of the notes are turned into grunts. However, for a villain who castrates himself to get what he wants, it`s almost a mircale he can get down to some of those notes, and isn`t in fact campaigning to be a Flower Maiden (a group of young ladies, well, youngish, who attempt to seduce Parsifal in readiness for Kundry - one of the more colourful scenes in the performance).

    Overall, I was very impressed by the performance, and thought Lehnhoff`s idea that Kundry doesn`t die in the end (a more traditional interpretation), but leads Parsifal (who has returned the crown to Amfortas`s father) and a few Knights away to a more uncertain future (without a reliance on ritual) a good one.

    There were however a few things that I noticed, which detracted a little from the overall experience, so I though I`d list them as I thought of them :

    1) The English subtitles could have been a little more `colloquial`. Far too many `methinks` and `whences` and `whither/thither` etc. A few lines had me pausing the DVD and reaching for the dictionary, and even then it didn`t help!

    2) The TV lights must have been a little strong, as the sweat factor was very noticeable. Poor Kundry looked drenched after shedding most of her outfit in Act 2, and Parsifal never stopped appearing as if he had just stepped out of a sauna.

    3) Certain aspects of the production went right over my head. Was the huge rock sticking out of the wall in Act 1 some form of symbolic meteor strike? (admittedly, the way the Knights look in the piece, some form of mass extinction has just taken place)

    4) The documentary on Disc 3 is a fascinating glimpse into the prcoess of producing a work like Parsifal, but some help in letting the viewer know who was talking to you would have been nice. It was only halfway through when I realised that the highly camp German chap may well have been Nikolaus Lehnhoff himself (and Chris Ventris was sweating heavily on here as well!)

    5) I was under the impression that this was a staged performance, but without an audience. When the applause appeared at the end, I was quite surprised, especially as there had been no shot of them beforehand (unusual in live opera). This makes me think that even the curtain calls were staged, with recorded applause, which wouldn`t have bothered me normally, but why on earth finish the DVD before the main characters take a bow??

    Overall I was very happy with the musical interpretation. Nothing is too reverential or languorous, but where necessary the music can jump out and force an unexpected shudder, which is what it`s all about as far as I`m concerned and so I would quite happily recommend this to anyone who knows the work. The orchestra playing is extremely good and as I mentioned before, is satisfyingly well-balanced, and I admire the players for dressing up in full posh gear to squeeze themselves into the pit for TV. Finally, to those who have never seen any Wagner before, beware.it`s big…but if you listen with yours ears open, it may well be worth it.

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