Lacks mystery and not all that imaginative, but worth seeing for Salminen's Gurnemanz
Parsifal has now become one of my favourite Wagner operas. Although I love all of his work, if I were to place Parsifal anywhere, it would be perhaps my third favourite, with Tristan Und Isolde first and Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg second. This is a thoroughly decent production of it. It is not my favourite though, I do consider the 1993, 1992, 1982 and even 2004 productions superior, as well as the 1999 performance. I did prefer this production to the 1983 film though, which was visually stunning and had fine performances and musical values, but with some sluggish pacing and a lot of visual symbolism in a work that is symbolic already I also found it exhausting.
Where this Zurich Parsifal is let down is in the production values and staging. Now the production is not ugly or unappealing, but also don't make much of an impact. I do much prefer the more fairytale-like approach, rather than the rather austere one here. I can understand the classroom set, it did make Gurnemanz's role in the opera clear, but it was rather compact and not very atmospheric. Klingsor's magic kingdom just lacks magic and doesn't have the mysterious effect it should either. The circular mirror was not a bad touch but had potential to be used more effectively. The staging I wouldn't say is bad as such, most of it is focused and expressive, but there are other parts that could have done with more imagination. This is especially true of the Flower Maidens, a wonderful entrance but after that not much beyond that. Parsifal is also maybe the most dense and atmospheric of Wagner's operas, but while it is not dull or infuriating, some of the impact and the sense of mystery seemed reduced here.
I also didn't care for two performances, none are disastrous actually but at the same didn't do much for me. The Titurel of Gunther Groissbock fared weakest, good singing but at the same time he doesn't do much with the role, the moving and sometimes reptile-like quality I've encountered in other performances doesn't come through. The same goes for Rolf Haunstein as Klingsor. He does sing very well indeed, not as blustery as I can find him. However I didn't find him malevolent enough, and his stage presence could have done with more subtlety.
However, the musical values are very impressive. Wagner's music is magnificent as it always is, though his style may take some getting used to for those not as familiar with his operas. And it is beautifully performed by the orchestra, their playing is very lush and powerful. The transformation sequences are particularly superb. The knights and flower maidens are not very imaginatively directed, but sing and blend very well. The chorus are excellent. Bernard Haitink's conducting I also had little problem with, the Act 1 prelude for my tastes was a little too ponderous but the rest is suitably forceful and enigmatic with attention to musicality and fluidity.
Aside from Groissbock and Haunstein, the rest of the performances are wonderful. Christopher Ventris perhaps doesn't have the most hefty of Wagnerian heldentenor voices, but he does sing very lyrically and his whole performance is very committed. Yvonne Naef is just as effective, not as good as Waltraud Meier(then again who is), but I personally didn't get much of a sense that she was taxed by the demanding vocal requirements of the role, and her interpretation as the most dimensional of the Wagnerian soprano roles is very impassioned and convincing.
Michael Volle I have known from the Bayreuth Meistersinger and Covent Garden Salome that he has a good voice and is a gifted actor. I didn't care all that much for the productions themselves, but found him the best asset about them. Here he is not quite as impressive(and only because I didn't find him quite the best of the cast) but his Amfortas is just splendid, his singing is virile and overall it is a moving performance. The best of the cast is Matti Salminen, whose thoughtful performance as Gurnemanz makes for a sonorously sung and superbly acted portrayal, along with his Sarastro, King Marke and Boris Godunov(also roles that have this grave dignity to them) it is a big contrast to the more evil-personified roles like Hagen, Hunding and Grand Inquisitor(which he excels equally in).
Overall, Salminen and Volle as well as the musical values make this Parsifal worth seeing. I do wish that the production values and staging were more mystical and imaginative and that the performances of Titurel and Klingsor were more distinguished and subtle, but I do recommend the performance even there are better Parsifals available. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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