The Bay Area Reporter, 08/21/2014
by Tim Pfaff
Parsiphallic or Parsifallible?
Almost since it first "consecrated" the stage at the Bayreuth Festival in 1882, Wagner's Parsifal has been thought by many to bear homosexual themes concealed in Christian trappings. Lawrence Dreyfus, the best and deepest commentator about eroticism in Wagner (and who argues from musical as well as literary evidence), traces the homosexual subculture drawn to the work from its early days, when one commentator called its view of sexual deviance "Parsiphallic."

No one, least of all Dreyfus, is arguing that Wagner may have been gay. But in Wagner and the Erotic Impulse he writes, "However one judges the strange menagerie of literary themes that inhabit Parsifal , it is undeniable that Wagner is still portraying the intoxicating allure of sexual desire, while seeking a solution to the syndrome of exotic suffering." Sound familiar?

Against all odds, there's scarcely a whiff of same-sexuality in any of the three new DVD recordings of Parsifal, though two of them clearly get the sex deal. The thing to which they all attest is the degree to which the opera is, whatever transpires onstage, the supreme "conductor's opera."

The interest in Christian Thielemann's 2013 Salzburg Easter Festival production (DG) is almost confined to the pit.......

Francois Girard's production for the Metropolitan Opera (Sony Classical) is hardly traditional, and runs with rivers of blood, much of it seemingly menstrual, but it's coherent and focuses on the very real human drama. Parsifal is such an elusive work that there hasn't, until now, been a recording that's satisfying front to back, top to bottom. But here's a performance that rises to every aspect of the complex work, moves confidently and surely through the belief-confounding terrain, and richly rewards repeated viewings. Parsifal wants the spell cast in its astonishing prelude never to be broken, and here it is not.

With his Tristan still in the offing, it's safe to say that Jonas Kaufmann's Parsifal is his most complete realization of a role to date. Successful passage from pure fool to sex-scorched knight to supreme healer is granted to few tenors, but Kaufmann illuminates the role in all its dimensions and seems with his every move and breath to be exploring new, deeper ones. Amazingly, he's cast with a Kundry of similar powers. Katarina Dalayman tirelessly and generously stretches her artistry, complete itself, as much and as superbly.

The cast, with Rene Pape magisterial as Guremanz, Peter Mattei a wrenching Amfortas, and Evgeny Nikitin as Klingsor, is the best that could be assembled today, and all deliver as if theirs were the holiest of missions. Still, as this recording of the final performance (telecast internationally) attests, conductor Daniele Gatti stole the show. To do that in a house where James Levine "owned" the score was an act of enormous daring triumphantly achieved. Over the run, four of whose performance were broadcast live, Gatti gradually yielded his finely chiseled reading of the score to the surpassing gifts of his cast and players. Even at its most masterful, I couldn't help thinking his conducting – famously from memory – somewhat self-regarding.

The first thing I noticed in the 2011 Parsifal (Bel-Air Classiques) from Belgium's Monnaie theater ...

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