, September 2010
I was mightily impressed with the DVD release of this Parsifal. And not just the artistic values—the singing, Kent Nagano’s coherent leadership in the pit, and Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s iconoclastic production—but also Opus Arte’s technical execution. With full-boat high-resolution playback on Blu-ray, the effect is even more stunning. The television director, Thomas Grimm, films Nagano and the superb German Symphony Orchestra Berlin for the whole of the act I and III preludes, and the realistic detail of the players and their instruments is extraordinary. (This degree of verisimilitude is a mixed blessing when the singers start svitzing under the hot lights.) Likewise, the multichannel sound, DTS-HD Master Audio rather than the plain old DTS of the earlier release, is of SACD quality. String textures, brasses, and voices are richly characterized. Truly, this is a demonstration-quality item...five years on, my enthusiasm is undimmed and I’ll reprise my accolades. Lehnhoff conjures up a post-apocalyptic world, imagining Parsifal as “an endgame in the wasteland.” Any pretense of the work being a “religious” opera is gone: Parsifal does not make the sign of the cross with the holy spear when dispatching Klingsor and his realm at the end of act II. The feeling of hopefulness we experience at the opera’s conclusion, Lehnhoff tells us in a succinct but penetrating liner note, comes because “ a new world opens up which has liberated itself of all rituals and ideologies.”
The cast couldn’t be better, with every character emanating a powerful dramatic aura. In the title role, Christopher Ventris is a primitive creature but one who is willing to learn, an amalgam of Siegfried and Walther. Ventris’s voice isn’t massive but it’s well-supported and expressive. Matti Salminen’s voice is massive, and he manages the difficult task of making Gurnemanz’ lengthy expository paragraphs in the first act dynamic and interesting. Thomas Hampson is a wonderful singing actor, palpably rendering all of Amfortas’s agony, guilt, and weariness. There’s a Psycho-like depravity in the air as he exhumes the decaying corpse of Titurel in act III. Tom Fox is a commandingly evil presence and Waltraud Meier does a phenomenal job with what is surely Wagner’s most challenging female role, representing the full range of Kundry’s persona, the seductiveness, rage, and—wordlessly, in the final act—her gentle, loving penitence.
The high-resolution audio delivers the complex vocal writing for the Flower Maidens with exceptional clarity; all the choral work is very accomplished. The long running time for the set—two BDs as opposed to the three DVDs—is accounted for by the 75-minute Parsifal’s Progress, a worthwhile “documentary analysis” directed by Reiner Moritz. For Wagnerians looking to break the ice with the Blu-ray format, this is a great place to start, followed by Nagano’s Lohengrin and the wonderful Valencia Ring.