Wagner: Parsifal

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Parsifal
PERFORMER: Falk Struckmann, Matthias Hölle, Hans Sotin, Poul Elming, Ekkehard Wlaschiha, Linda Watson; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus/Giuseppe Sinopoli (Bayreuth Fesitval, 1998)
CATALOGUE NO: C Major 705908 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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As the sleeve and notes make clear, this 1998 performance’s main attraction is the late Giuseppe Sinopoli’s conducting. Psychologist and composer too, he attracted controversy with his unconventional approach, especially his tendency to meandering tempos and apparently shapeless orchestral melisma. But that originality, and its frequent revelatory beauty, also gained him admirers, as did his operatic skills. All that is here. Act I’s transformation scene is the most sluggish I can remember, the Grail scene lingering – but also impressively atmospheric and gorgeously played. And passages like Act II’s swirling magical runs are as fast and fiery as they should be.

Just as well, because Wolfgang Wagner’s last production remains doggedly conventional, little advance on his 1981 staging, also on DVD. Faceted metallic columns suggest a jewelled forest out of a JG Ballard novel, but their backs flank a rather cardboardy Grail Hall, and they reappear unconvincingly, lit mauve, as Klingsor’s garden. Wolfgang does eschew pointless gesture and concentrate on the characters, but does little with them. Baritone Poul Elming is a clear-voiced, energetic Parsifal, classically handsome, but while Bayreuth debutante soprano Linda Watson sings finely, she raises scant dramatic temperature as witch or seductress.

Likewise veteran Hans Sotin’s bass remains warm and his line incisive, but he lacks involvement. Bass-baritone Falk Struckmann’s wiry-toned Amfortas and baritone Ekkehard Wlaschiha’s robust Klingsor are much livelier, although his Flowermaidens, coolly choreographed with dancers, remain elegantly unseductive.

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I wouldn’t want this every time, but Sinopoli’s grandeur and delicacy wins me over, and newcomers may find it accessible. Michael Scott Rohan