WAGNER Parsifal (Fischer)
‘I was not thinking of the Redeemer when I created Parsifal’, wrote Wagner. In ceremonial moments stage director Pierre Audi and his team – including artist Anish Kapoor as set designer – rightly eschew any Christian symbolism deriving from latter-day Mass rituals, opting instead (in the first Grail scene) for images of blood and sacrifice. Audi takes a hard but wholly justifiable line with the brothers’ treatment of their failed leader Amfortas. They cannot bear to touch him or to be near him (no litter to carry him to a supposedly healing bath; he has to stagger there), while the final scene shows a right-wing coup with the newly re-armed knights – that’s actually in the production notes for Wagner’s own premiere staging! – attempting to force him to reveal the Grail once more.
Here we are refreshingly light years away from imitations of Siena cathedral or the gardens in Ravello. The first act, like the piece itself, is visually rather crowded with people and props trying to mend things – Gurnemanz’s nightmare of the wounded Amfortas in the Prelude, the carpenter’s shop attempts to make crosses and the rough scaffolding towers which are the beginning (or the remains) of a Grail hall. Acts 2 and 3 are pretty bare so as to focus on the psychology of Kundry and her redeemer/almost-lover Parsifal. This filming spares us what were apparently acoustic blips in Act 2 caused by Klingsor’s large mirror and has the Act 1 transformations (played in the theatre with curtain down) more reminiscent of time becoming space via extra footage of Parsifal and Gurnemanz walking through smoke.
As in his Ring, Audi has achieved performances of exceptional emotional detail from his soloists, none more than Petra Lang’s Kundry, who gives us everything apart from the high tessitura at the end of Act 2 that only Kirsten Flagstad really managed. Her relationship with and looks at Christopher Ventris’s Parsifal in Act 3 bring tears to the eyes – the relationship that can never happen, liberated again in the baptism scenes from over-derivative biblical references. A great achievement for this artist. Ventris too – and bravely – achieves a perfect unmannered neutrality, never rushing in voice or face the revelations that come to him from the Act 2 duet onwards.
The other principals make up a supportive team. Struckmann, an Amfortas on previous DVDs, is a baritonal Gurnemanz, another success for him in older Wagner roles. His controlled suffering and well-worked text make most effect in Act 1 and the final act’s focus on Kundry doesn’t pull emotional attention from him. Marco-Buhrmester manages Amfortas’s physical afflictions with skill and Petrenko (also heard but not seen as Titurel) creates a genuinely spooky Klingsor without recourse to camp or hysteria. All – and the choruses – sing well for Fischer’s careful, expertly played symphonic accompaniment. He does not rely on the massive climaxes of older German masters or their more expressionist colours but manages subtly to up the pace at moments (eg the knights’ Act 1 ‘hymn’ to their bread and wine) where lesser readings might stick.
Well filmed and recorded, this is an essential purchase for Lang and for Audi’s direction, a straight but strong rival to existing competition from Barenboim/Kupfer and Nagano/Lehnhoff.