LABELS: Challenge Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
PERFORMER: Christopher Ventris, Petra Lang, Falk Struckmann, Kurt Rydl, Alejandro Marco Buhrmester; Dutch National Opera Chorus; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Iván Fischer; dir. Pierre Audi (Amsterdam, 2012)
CATALOGUE NO: CC72619
This is an uneven performance and production of Wagner’s last drama, likely to confuse newcomers to the work and to leave anyone familiar with it with mixed feelings. Iván Fischer is capable of great things, and with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in the pit there are bound to be some wonderful sounds in this subtlest and also most piercing of Wagner’s scores. Even so, the Preludes to Acts I and III are smooth and nerveless, while that to Act II is a phenomenal whirlwind.
During the action of the drama Fischer is usually admirable, and however slow the pace may be – though this is a moderately fast traversal of the score – there is a sure sense of where it is going. There needs to be, because Anish Kapoor’s sets are bewildering, and so, frequently, is Pierre Audi’s direction. For instance: the central figure of suffering is Amfortas, ruler of the Grail, who, thanks to his seduction at the hands of Kundry, suffers from a perpetually painful wound which can only be healed by a pure fool. Here Amfortas is naked apart from a loincloth (white boxers, actually) and a bandage round his suppurating and bleeding chest wound; fine, but Audi turns him into a Christ figure, for whom the industrious knights of the Grail are making innumerable crosses, so he is capable of multiple crucifixions. The scenery never suggests Nature, which is central to the whole thing.
Of the singers, Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester is great as Amfortas, Falk Struckmann is a tireless and moving Gurnemanz, while Petra Lang is wild, sometimes in the wrong way, as Kundry, and never seductive, and Christopher Ventris’s Parsifal just about passes muster. By present-day standards it is a straightforward production, but that’s not saying much. The accompanying booklet contains an essay which is seriously misleading about the work, and biographically wrong.