Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production of Parsifal was staged by ENO in 1999. It has since travelled the world and here comes from last year’s Baden-Baden Festival. It’s a provocative but effective interpretation, in which the Knights of the Grail are struggling to hang on to life in a post-apocalyptic world (a symbolic meteorite dominates the set in Act I). It’s a grim vision, but one that works with the established plot; and Lehnhoff’s final suggestion of Parsifal leading the others on to a new life without the organised religion that has so patently failed them is inspiring in these over-zealous times. It would be hard to assemble a better cast today.
Waltraud Meier’s Kundry is riveting in her intensity and sense of a creature possessed. The same characteristics mark out Thomas Hampson’s Amfortas – for once a vividly drawn character, whose pain is there for all to see in his acting and singing. Christopher Ventris’s burly, Rambo-esque Parsifal is both lyrical and forthright, Matti Salminen’s Gurnemanz resonantly enunciated and authoritative. But Kent Nagano’s prosaic conducting negates all this marvellous work. He might make a passable Ring conductor some day, but he just doesn’t have the measure of Parsifal’s world-weary spirituality.
Tempo and timing are not everything and the music can take a variety of approaches, but he rips through the piece, taking a whole hour less than, admittedly an extreme comparison, Levine’s performance on CD (DG) and so, although a degree of desperation suits the production, robbing the music of its majesty and spaciousness. Apart from some antiquated subtitling, this is a lavish presentation, well filmed and recorded, though the generosity of a 75-minute documentary interviewing the participants is dulled by over-extended excerpts from the performance. Matthew Rye