WAGNER Parsifal (Haenchen)
Whatever else Parsifal is about, we may agree that its ending represents the opening up of a closed society. That is one idea well caught at the end of this filming of the Bayreuth Festival’s 2016 new production – house lights fully up, scenery and ensemble moving to the sides in search of new horizons in cloud-like smoke. It’s a nice lift at the end where not everything in Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s staging appears yet to have come into precise focus – which itself prompts again the question as to whether the premiere of a show that has several years to run is really the best occasion to record it for posterity.
Judging from the costumes and from the Google map video that occupies the first Transformation interlude in Act 1, we are in the modern-day Middle East world of religious conflict. The Grail community shares not especially luxurious space with other religions, refugees, tourists and soldiers. Its iconography is very Christ-oriented; a large crucifix designates its area and Ryan McKinny’s terrifically in‑focus Amfortas appears at the ceremony as Jesus en route to Calvary. Later we see that part of Klingsor’s reaction against the Grail domain has made him build up a fetishistic collection of crucifixes, one of which appears, tastelessly, to have been worked into a sex toy. The burkhas which Kundry and the Flower Maidens wear some of the time in Act 2 suggest a rather half-hearted attempt to show Klingsor turning towards Islam, maybe too hot a potato politically. None of these interventionist ideas are made much of until Act 3 when, rather movingly, the Flower Maidens return to the Grail domain ‘redeemed’ after Parsifal baptises Kundry. And too many of the ideas – like the appearance of soldiers smoking during Gurnemanz’s monologue – appear at the moment like easy alienation effects in the middle of an otherwise straight and clear reading of Wagner’s text.
Hartmut Haenchen’s belated Festival debut fields all his customary research on the score. He seems immediately master of pit/stage balance, using to the full the acoustics for which the work was created. (His sampled bells also sound specially period.) I haven’t done the comparative maths but the performance feels quite fast, although not to a Boulez or Krauss degree. The cast fit well, with McKinny outstanding in mood and (like his longtime North American predecessors here, George London and Thomas Stewart) in the balance between hysteria and pain. Pankratova encompasses Kundry’s tricky range in Act 2 with aplomb – it’s just a pity she’s not given more interesting things to do, although her shell-shocked (de)incarnation in Act 3 is memorable. Vogt now sounds more natural in this role than as Lohengrin. Zeppenfeld contributes another multi-layered reading of an ‘old’ Wagner bass. The Blu‑ray provides exceptional sound and picture detail. Well worth seeing even if there is a shortage of the more memorable visual moments provided by Audi (Challenge Classics, 8/17), Lehnhoff (Opus Arte, 7/05) and Kupfer (EuroArts).