Wagner: Parsifal

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

WORKS: Parsifal
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Jessye Norman, Kurt Moll, James Morris,Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus/James Levine
Addressing the controversial ideology underlying much of Wagner’s achievement without compromising its sublimity and greatness is perhaps the primary challenge facing Wagner interpreters today. Yet it’s one that seems to have bypassed James Levine, whose vehement opposition to conceptual approaches to Wagner staging is well known. In this his second recording of Parsifal, he demonstrates once again that a non-interventionist account is simply not sufficient: a personal interpretative vision of the work is vital.


‘Frigid’ is the only word to describe it. As if to convince us that Nietzsche was right in dismissing Wagner as a miniaturist, Levine presents the work as an infinite succession of expressive soundbites, each one inflated out of all proportion to its large-scale function. Yet, paradoxically, Levine’s squeezing out of the last molecule of expressive juice results not in heightened intensity and deeper emotional involvement, but in a curious distancing, only emphasised by the exceptionally beautiful playing of the Met orchestra and the unsparing clarity of the recording.


Levine’s evasive tactic rubs off too on his singers, an enticing line-up on paper but in execution consistently disappointing: not even Kurt Moll’s experienced and sensitive Gurnemanz (so moving on the Karajan recording, also on DG), nor Plácido Domingo and Jessye Norman’s exquisitely sung but dramatically uninteresting Parsifal and Kundry are able to do much to save an intrinsically flawed and – dare one say it – foolhardy enterprise. More’s the pity. Antony Bye