Culture Magazine

How My Collection Started

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
A Reflection, on Wagner's Birthday.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

How My Collection Started

The Parsifal that started it all.
Inset photograph © 1985 Bayreuth Festspiele.

It all started with what I wanted for Christmas in 1993.
"Mom, I want the Richard Wagner Edition of Parsifal with James Levine conducting."
"OK." Mom was happy that my classes at Fordham (including The Age of Beethoven and Wagner and Wagnerism the year before had led to such a fruitful musical interest in her only son."
I continued: "And...and you can save a lot of money if you get it at Disc-O-Rama."
"It's just up West 4th St. from The Slaughtered Lamb."
"The WHAT?!?"
In 1993 I was 20 years old. I was also (finally) the owner of an actual working CD player--a JVC DualDisc shelf unit with this cool mechanism that actually let you put two discs in it and it would change from track to track as it played. I had bought my first CDs (albums by Marillion and Rush) that summer.
Now that I was finally able to buy CDs instead of cassettes, I had discovered Disc-O-Rama, that famed Greenwich Village haven for music junkies selling large quantities at very low prices. (I still don't know quite how they do it--and they remain in business today on W. 8th St.)
Now that I had discovered this great resource, I wanted a Parsifal. I had fallen in love with the opera earlier that year, experiencing it thanks to my excellent music teacher Dr. James Kurtz at Fordham University. I had even videotaped the live broadcast off of Channel 13 with Siegfried Jerusalem and Waltraud Meier, although the opera's first hour had threatened to put me to sleep.
My mom blanched at the directions. "The-the "Slaughtered Lamb? Good God what is that?" she asked.
"It's a bar, Mom. With a big wolf over the door." (Not helping my cause that but I figured precise directions couldn't hurt.) "And you can get opera CDs at this store for about half of what they sell for at Tower." (At the time, a 4CD set of Parsifal with libretto cost somewhere around $65. I was being economical.)
Well, move forward to Christmas morning, Dec. 25 1993. Before church that day, our house resounded to the bells of Montsalvat, recorded live in 1985 at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. (Yes, I started listening to it at the beginning of Disc Two.)
The sound, coming out of those JVC speakers was utterly magnificent. That same night, I tried to fall asleep listening to the second disc, only to be awaked by Waltraud Meier's blood-curdling screams at the start of Act II. And thus I invented what I call the "Parsifal Alarm Clock."
I still have a copy of that Parsifal (it was reissued a few years back as part of a big London boxed set of the 10 major operas.) And I still take it out and listen to it sometime.
Happy 201st birthday, Herr Wagner.

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