ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
PERFORMER: Siegfried Jerusalem, Kurt Moll, Waltraud Meier; Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orchestra/James Levine; dir. Otto Schenk (New York, 1993)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 032-9
Most evidence (including photos) tells us that the premiere production of Parsifal – by Wagner himself and Paul von Joukowsky – was barely Romantic and not at all naturalistic, and that it was acted – along the general lines of 1880s staging – in a wholly unrealistic manner. (Symbolist would be a better description for both design and production.) But, following in the steps of their misguided New York Ring and Tannhäuser, Schenk and his designers – and the Metropolitan’s rich, conservative sponsors – believe otherwise. Under the false banner of a return-to-roots Romanticism, they foist on to Wagner’s great stations-of-life psychological thriller a totally inept (and unhistorical) combination of modern ‘realist’ film acting and two-dimensional pictorial settings made up of painted scene drops, gauzes and implausibly convenient level-changing steps.
The effect, both gross and tedious, is to waste a cast that, for its time, was definitive; even Meier and Jerusalem, handsome of both voice and look, seem as if they’re merely going through the motions. Then there is Levine’s interpretation of the score which, for all its fluency and virtuosity, appears blissfully unaware of the subtle interplay between Wagner’s often dark text and the notes it inspired. Filming and sound are perfectly adequate but, luckily, all of the cast can be seen to better advantage in videos from Bayreuth (Philips’s 1981 Wolfgang Wagner production) and Berlin (Teldec’s 1993 Harry Kupfer production), both of them urgently needed on DVD. Mike Ashman