Great Performances: Season 27, Episode 17

Parsifal: The Search for the Grail (8 Jul. 1999)

TV Episode  -   -  Biography | Drama | Music
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Cast

Episode credited cast:
Karen Armstrong ...
Herself
Irina Djioeva ...
...
Parsifal
Valery Gergiev ...
Conductor
Maria Gortsevskaya ...
Page
Alexandra Iosifidi ...
Principal dancer
Tatiana Kravzova ...
Feodor Mojhaev ...
Armfortas
Anna Netrebko ...
Tatiana Pavlovskaya ...
Nikolai Putilin ...
Klingsor
Matti Salminen ...
Gurnemanz
Lia Shevtsova ...
Galina Sydorenko ...
Page
Olga Trifonova ...
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8 July 1999 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Saved by the performance segments
3 June 2012 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

I was intrigued in seeing this documentary film, as I love Parsifal and wanted to learn more about it. But after seeing it, I was left with the notion of bitter disappointment. Parsifal:The Search for the Grail is saved by its performance segments. They are in fragments, variable in length(the longest being with the Flower Maidens and Kundry), and I think there should have been more. But they are very compelling drama indeed, especially the superbly lit and shot unveiling of the Grail at the end of the film.

In fact the performance does look good, beautifully shot, atmospherically lit with more than decent costumes and sets, especially in Parsifal's wandering the woods. Valery Gergiev conducts the wondrous score wonderfully, under him the orchestra are very lush and powerful. The Flower Maidens and Knights are very well done, and the performances are excellent. Although Placido Domingo's German is not great and if one is fussy about ages in opera(I'm not, or at least I don't try to) they might find Domingo stretching credibility, but the vivid acting and mostly burnished tone(though his high notes are not as free as they were in the 70s, his best decade) are still there.

Violetta Urmana I worried the taxing and very three-dimensional role of Kundry would be too heavy for her, but she is very big-voiced in her segments and is suitably sensual. I wish there was more of Matti Salminen, because he is a superb Gurnemanz, commanding and subtle with a sonorous timbre to his voice. Feodor Mojhaev is a moving Amfortas, and Nicolai Putlin's Klingsor is suitably menacing.

Sadly, I can't say the same about the rest. Initially, it was a very ambitious project to take on and had potential to work, but for me not only was the documentary film not balanced at all in its interpretation but it also made little to no effort made to point out any of Wagner's metaphysical depths. Granted, Wagner is very ambiguous in terms of interpretation, but surely he deserves a more balanced view than what was presented here. There were some bits that I did like though, like Tony Palmer(also responsible for the magnificent Wagner epic starring Richard Burton) illustrating his points visually.

If I were to be honest, I failed to see the point of the clips of contemporary war atrocities or with the Harrison Ford and Monty Python antics, other than to give you an impression that Parsifal is a story about the Holy Grail, which it is not. Then there is the very one-sided statements such as "Adolf Hitler believed that it was only the pure blood of the Aryan race that could preserve the sanctity of the Grail", giving a strong and very simple-minded implication that Wagner was responsible for the likes of The Third Reich and the Holocaust. Palmer even brings in someone who claims to be an expert on Wagner, but to me this was a further excuse to force down our throats that Wagner was an anti-semitic.

Domingo also takes on the role as narrator, and while he does try his best, the narration itself is so stilted and very difficult to understand such as "sees the Grail that alone will offer redemption"(especially to someone new to Parsifal, Wagner or even opera) that I did get a sense that he himself was wondering what he was meant to be saying.

Overall, apart from the performance segments, Parsifal:The Search For the Grail was a big disappointment, coming across as too one-sided and even judgemental of Wagner to be taken at face value. 3/10 Bethany Cox


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