Author: Peter Quantrill

WAGNER Parsifal (Jordan)
Stage+ hosts the film of this Russian-prison Parsifal, directed (via Zoom) by Kirill Serebrennikov in Vienna in 2021. Anyone discomfited by potential overlaps between Wagner the dramatist and the recently decapitated merchant army should find that this audio-only version has much to recommend it. Sony has captured a cast fully inhabiting their roles in the moment yet uncompromised by staging noise or unreliable balance perspectives of the kind usually attendant on such projects – such as the last Vienna Parsifal (DG, 6/06), which presents the most salient point of comparison.

The most striking sign of Serebrennikov’s agency arrives (appropriately enough) through a literal absence – of the usual histrionic cry from the knights in Act 3 as they shrink back from Amfortas.

The star tenor sounds like a weather-beaten wanderer even from his first entrance, though untouched by his recent vocal afflictions. The notion of an ‘experienced’ Parsifal looks on paper like a contradiction in terms, yet there is much to be said for the confident, reflective figure portrayed by Kaufmann even in Act 1 – a hero we can believe in – rather than the artless naïf which often makes a cipher out of the opera’s nominally central figure.

Kaufmann gives as good as he gets from Garanča in Act 2 and Zeppenfeld in Act 3, which is saying something, because these are gripping portraits indeed. Zeppenfeld has for some years made a highly articulate Gurnemanz – no need for a libretto if the original text means something to you – but his coloured account of the first-act narration now gives us much more than the time-honoured, third-party unfolding of the back story, dropping heavy hints of the one-time squire as an independent but impotent actor. Whatever the individual details of Serebrennikov’s production, Zeppenfeld registers in Act 3 all the overtones of a John the Baptist figure of undimmed fervour, which Wagner evidently had in mind.

Meanwhile Garanča’s Kundry – her debut in the role – is sumptuously sung even in one-line dialogue, flashes of anger or self-pity; the most vocally opulent Kundry since Ludwig for Solti (Decca, 4/73), but more fully resolving the role’s paradox of seductress/penitent by effacing old traces of hieratic declamation in the part. As another debut bringing new insights, Ludovic Tézier’s Amfortas returns such lyric firepower with interest in his two solos, Wolfgang Koch effectively soft-pedals the elements of caricature in Klingsor, and the excellent supporting cast features a strongly differentiated line up of Flowermaidens.

Jordan’s direction is spacious but more responsive (to both his singers and the score) than his father Armin’s for the Syberberg movie (reissued in soundtrack form on Erato, 8/82). Take the transformation scenes in the outer acts, the second being properly more raw and urgent than the first rather than a straightforward mirror image. This is not conducting that draws attention to itself by means of extremes of tempo or hyper-refined textures. For a Parsifal to be led so vividly by the personalities on stage makes a welcome change.

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