Parsifal on Blu-Ray

But maybe he
didn’t imagine a staging of his opera quite as anti-erotic as the Badener
Lehrst¸ck version found on this DVD.

This is an impressive performance. Nikolaus Lehnhoff places the opera at the
burnt-out end of the road: a railroad track breaks off in the middle of
nothing; the floor of the Grail castle curves up steeply at the back, until the
chairs shoot out directly from the wall—it’s a castle in a
different dimension, unavailable to human beings. The Grail knights look
cadaverous in Act 1, and in Act 3 are dusty remnants of cadavers. Amfortas is a
single big wound, wrapped in mummy bandages; Titurel is a figure from
nightmare, a skeleton in chain mail, his hands mere phalanx-bones tipped with
long claws. The inspiration for the whole production seems to be T. S.
Eliot’s The Waste Land, a poem in which elements from the story
of the Fisher King and the Grail Knight are perched uncomfortably on a ruined
industrial landscape, where the river sweats oil and tar, and the taxi throbs
and waits.

If Klingsor’s magic garden is magical, it is a sour sort of magic. The
Kabuki Klingsor inhabits a sphere, as if he were in a subspace of his own, yet
another orthogonal from the plane of reality; his castle is a magnified female
pelvis-bone, a sort of Bowel of Bliss. The flower-maidens wear unadorned
shifts, flowery only in that the sleeves crescendo out into great bell; Kundry
herself is almost immobile, encased in a carnation-ball of petals; slowly she
divests herself of her costume, unburdens herself of the director’s
system of metaphor, becomes an urgent, furiously sexy presence. When the castle
collapses, some bits of rubble fall on the stage, but since the stage has been
basically rubble from the opera’s beginning, the presence of yet more
dreck is not strongly felt.

This is Nietzsche’s dream production of Parsifal, stripped of
most of the Christian elements that he loathed. When Parsifal enters in Act 3,
he stalks in all in black, wearing a harness of arrows arranged in a fan, and a
helmet of raven feathers, as if he were both St. Sebastian and hell’s own
Papageno (that pure fool of another age). Wagner asks him to transfigure and be
transfigured; but Lehnhoff offers him little of either, though he allows
Parsifal to assist the death-eager in the process of dying.

The singing is good, especially Waltraud Meier’s alert, beautifully
felt Kundry, and Christopher Ventris’ smartly foolish Parsifal. Thomas
Hampson’s voice is a little soft-grained for Amfortas, but he is, as
usual, good to hear; Matti Salminen is authoritatively irritable as Gurnemanz;
Bjarni Thor Kristinsson—strong, not at all aged, with a kind of
beyond-the-grave heartiness—makes more of Titurel than I would have
thought possible. The Blu-Ray image is sharp—seeing the production with
such clarity seems to intensify the intelligence of Lehnhoff’s extremely
intelligent design.

Daniel Albright

image_description=Opus Arte OABD7063D
product_title=Richard Wagner: Parsifal
product_by=Parsifal: Christopher Ventris; Kundry: Waltraud Meier; Gurnemanz: Matti Salminen; Amfortas: Thomas Hampson; Klingsor: Tom Fox; Titurel: Bjarni Thor Kristinsson. Baden-Baden Festival Chorus. Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra. Kent Nagano, conductor. Nikolaus Lehnhoff, stage director. Recorded live at the Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, Germany, August 2004.
product_id=Opus Arte OABD7063D [2 Blu-Ray DVDs]