Culture Magazine

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Parsifal

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
The most eagerly anticipated Wagner event of the season.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Parsifal

Nikolai Schukoff and Elena Zhidkova in the Opera Lyon premiere of François Girard's Parsifal.
Photo by Philippe Merle © 2012 Opera Lyon.

The Metropolitan Opera has always had a special connection with Parsifal, Wagner's final opera. From the "bootleg" performances of 1903 (the Met was the first opera company to challenge the composer's decree that his "stage-consecrating festival play" should only be performed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus) to Otto Schenck's picture-realist production of the 1980s, this opera has always had an important place at the Met.
In February, the company unveils a new take on the myth of the pure fool, the wounded king and the holy grail, with this stark, unusual staging by François Girard. Stark landscapes and a literal ocean of blood are the dominant visual images here. The production, which bowed in March of 2012 at the Opera Lyon received good notices. But only the Grail knows how conservative New York Wagnerites are going to react.
The Met has assembled a very strong cast. Jonas Kaufmann sings his first Parsifal in New York, opposite the Kundry of Katherine Dalayman. Peter Mattei is Amfortas, the wounded King of the Grail whose injury stands at the center of the opera's plot. René Pape makes a welcome return to the role of Gurnemanz, the wise old knight who provides much of the exposition...when he gets around to it. Daniele Gatti conducts.
Parsifal opens Feb. 15. Start times for evening performances are 6pm.
Recording Recommendations:
The Redeemer knows that I've written a lot about Parsifal over the years on this blog. It's one of my favorite operas. So you can check out reviews of recordings by Valery Gergiev, Reginald Goodall, and Marek Janowski. Or you could just buy one of these:
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus 1962 cond. Hans Knappertsbusch (Philips/Decca 1962)
Parsifal: Jess Thomas
Gurnemanz: Hans Hotter
Amfortas: George London
Kundry: Irene Dalis
"Kna's" '62 recording is half a century old this year, and still the best Parsifal on record:a slow, majestic performance that pulls you into this opera's mystic sound-world. Sure, there are a few coughs and mutters from the audience, but that only lends to the feeling of sitting in the theater that Wagner built. On a good pair of headphones, you are there. The cast is uniformly excellent, and this is Jess Thomas' finest hour.
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus 1970 cond. Pierre Boulez (DG, 1970)
Parsifal: James King
Gurnemanz: Franz Crass
Amfortas: Thomas Stewart
Kundry: Gwyneth Jones
Pierre Boulez went from declaring that he wanted to blow up all the opera houses to succeeding Hans Knappertsbusch as the regular Parsifal conductor at Bayreuth in 1965. Five years later, the French conductor/composer showed that there was more than one way to conduct Parsifal. He takes brisk, almost effortless tempos that bring the opera in a tight (and numerological 3:38:38). Yet Mr. Boulez never sacrifices mysticism for narrative drive. He also has a great cast, with Dame Gwyneth as an hysteric Kundry and Thomas Stewart as the suffering Amfortas.
Return to the Superconductor 2012-2013 Metropolitan Opera Season Preview.
Contact the author: E-mail Superconductor editor Paul Pelkonen.

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