Parsifal is not my favourite of Wagner's operas, but it is a wonderful and very compelling if very difficult work. This ties with the 1993 Met production as the best Parsifal on DVD, and I have also seen the 1982 production, which was very good, and the 1983 production, which had wonderful singing, visually stunning and musical values but rather exhausting with the symbolism(especially considering Parsifal is a somewhat symbolic work in the first place).
One may prefer a more sumptuous and somewhat more traditional approach like with the 1982 and 1993 productions, but I liked the dark, semi-mythical, futuristic setting here, especially seeing as the aesthetic stage designs are so good. The camera work, picture and sound quality are excellent. It works brilliantly dramatically as well, thanks to Henry Kupfer's skillful direction of the singers, like Jean Pierre Ponnelle this also happens to be Kupfer's trademark. This is especially true of Kundry, of the four productions I've seen so far of Parsifal her Kundry is the most three-dimensional.
Musically, it's faultless, I'd go as far to say that it's a tour-De-force. The orchestral playing is lush and often powerful, and Daniel Barenboim's reading of Wagner's score is superb, full of authority and weighty punch. The singing is equally great, in the case of John Tomlinson and especially Waltraud Meier outstanding. Tomlinson is in his prime, and his Gurnemanz is charismatic and very subtle with a well-rounded warm tone. Watching and hearing him, you immediately identify with him and actually want to listen to his stories.
And what to say about Meier? I happen to think she is the finest contemporary Kundry. I liked her very much in the Met production, but here she is much more impressive, with the character much more three-dimensional than there. She is stunningly beautiful, she has the most amazing cheekbones don't you think, and fairly young(36), but what really amazed me about her performance here was how flexible her voice was, her intelligence and her dramatic commitment, not just playing Kundry but embodying her.
Paul Elming is completely believable in the title role, the baritone-like quality of the lower parts of his voice allows for a lot of warmth and amazingly the top doesn't sound too strained. Gunter Von Kannen is a fine Klingsor with a strong presence and a rich, powerful voice, while Falk Struckmann is a slightly grainy(vocally) but moving Amfortas.
Overall, one of the best Parsifals, my joint personal favourite on DVD anyhow. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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