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--Standard Repertory--

By Richard Wagner

VIDEO: Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano), Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor), Bernd Weikl & Franz Mazura (baritones), Kurt Moll (bass), James Levine (conductor), Metropolitan Opera Orch. & Chorus (March 1992); $82.50 (this may just be the Laserdisc price); PGD [Polygram] 072535

I was at this performance, and Meier and Jerusalem were amazing. [G.R.]

AUDIO: A) TELDEC: Wolfgang Windgassen, Martha Mödl, Ludwig Weber, George London, Knappertsbusch conducting; "not only the best Parsifal that I have ever seen or heard, but one of the three or four most moving spiritual experiences of my life" -- Ernest Newman, the distinguished critic and musicologist, after attending this fabled opening (1951) of Wieland Wagner's Neu Bayreuth production; Windgassen/Moedl provide great excitement, deep commitment and some vocal compromises -- Windgassen, for one, is occasionally a bit raw; but the entire cast is still musically solid; they may not have the nth degree of musicianship, but they cohere as an ensemble under one of the greatest musicians ever: Hans Knappertsbusch, known affectionately as "Kna," whose conducting shows an unequalled understanding of this work; he combines profound inwardness with an instinct for narrative drive that yields an eminently theatrical reading, even in Wagner's problematic first act -- a rare mix of depth and untramelled flow; despite the occasional musical slip-up from an otherwise assured cast, Kna alone makes this already special, and Wieland Wagner's sure grasp of character development captures the listener's imagination throughout; in excellent Mono, conveying a vivid sound picture of Wagner's score as it was meant to be heard in the Bayreuth Festpielhaus acoustics [G.R.]

B) TELDEC [. . . .again; they appear to have a--semi--monopoly on this piece]: Siegfried Jerusalem, Waltraud Meier, Matthias Holle, Jose Van Dam, Barenboim conducting (1990); I find myself sometimes preferring this one to A for its finer singing: Jerusalem/Meier more vocally consistent than their counterparts in A, heard in vivid stereo sound as well; although Barenboim's exciting interpretation is not quite so cohesive as Kna's in the first act, he is riveting in Act II, and in the final act he is the equal of anybody, including Kna; despite Stereo and superior sonics, one still misses the unique sound picture of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus; Stereo [G.R.]

C) PHILIPS: Jess Thomas, Irene Dalis, Hans Hotter, George London, Knappertsbusch conducting (1962); less consistent singing than in Kna's A, but Kna's mastery of Act I--and, indeed, of the whole score--surpasses his '51 reading; stunning, stereo sound also gives the best reproduction on disk of the Bayreuth acoustics; although Thomas's beautiful singing in the title role may indeed be more moving and musical than Windgassen's in '51, Hotter's vocally uncertain Gurnemanz, however deeply felt, is definitely an acquired taste; Stereo [G.R.]

D) ERATO: Reiner Goldberg, Yvonne Minton, Robert Lloyd, Wolfgang Schoene, Jordan conducting (1981); good--though slightly less consistent--singing next to B, but just-as-good sound quality as B with the slightly less exciting Jordan in firmer control than Barenboim of the unwieldy first act; fewer grand peaks than in B; Stereo [G.R.]

E-1) ARLECCHINO: Ramon Vinay, Martha Mödl, Ludwig Weber, George London, Krauss conducting ("live," Bayreuth, 1953); early revival of Wieland Wagner's 1951 production (A); potentially, one of the finest, but bedeviled by occasional ensemble lapses; still, a more energized reading than many, everyone very much into their roles, Mödl trumps her 1951 Kundry, vocally and dramatically, and Krauss equals the Kna of '51 in places, while allowing for scrappy moments; curiously, the usually sensitive Vinay is a bit one-dimensional, with a square, hectoring interpretation: for sheer tone, he is preferable to Wieland's predecessor, Windgassen, but Vinay still seems uncomfortable, and, in most respects, the plainer Windgassen is better; Mono [G.R.]

E-2) MELODRAM [not yet on CD]: Sandor Konya, Rita Gorr, Boris Christoff, Gustav Neidlinger, Cluytens conducting ("live," La Scala, 1960); this is the bel canto Parsifal; unfortunately, Cluytens's conducting is quite uncertain, and he even makes a few cuts along the way(!); still, it's hard to imagine anyone singing Parsifal with more sheer beauty than Sandor Konya! -- also, a young Montserrat Caballe as the first Flower isn't half bad either!  Mono [G.R.]

E-3) RCA: Fritz Uhl, Elisabeth Höngen/Christa Ludwig, Hans Hotter, Eberhard Waechter, von Karajan conducting ("live," Vienna, 1961); although some Parsifals may deserve consideration before this one, it has to be included simply because of Ludwig's glowing Kundry in Act II; this set is preferable both to Karajan's studio effort (not even itemized here due to the inherent flaws in Peter Hofmann's Parsifal and Dunja Vejzovic's Kundry) and to Ludwig's later studio Kundry with Solti, where, even though Ludwig is given the entire role, Solti is a much less sympathetic colleague than the "live" Karajan and has the dubious distinction of leading perhaps the least inward, least organic Parsifal ever made in the recording studio; here, with Karajan and a stronger supporting cast than Solti's, one can thrill more to Ludwig, unequalled as Kundry the "seductress" of Act II, while one regrets Ludwig's absence in the earlier scenes (where Höngen sings Kundry the "penitent"!): for intelligence, passion, sympathy, versatility, musicianship, charisma and sheer beauty, one cannot ever imagine a more comprehensive traversal than Ludwig's; for this reason alone, this recording has its value as a way of studying one of Wagner's most inspired and fascinating character transformations in depth; Mono [G.R.]


For Further Reading:

Parsifal (Opera Guide, No.34), by Richard Wagner

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