Opera News, June 2014
WAGNER: Parsifal
For several years now, operas seem to be directed primarily for the Live in HD audience rather than for the audience in the house. Certainly this François Girard Parsifal offers an entirely different experience on DVD from the effect it made inside the Met. Some elements, such as the way Parsifal is positioned among the choristers at curtain-rise, or the reappearance of Klingsor to witness Kundry's kiss, were not visible from my seat on the orchestra level. Designer Michael Levine's notorious lake of blood for Act II was likewise unseen from some of the house. On the other hand, some prominent features of the live event could never be replicated on DVD, particularly the near-unbelievable dynamic range of René Pape's Gurnemanz, the life-and-death connection between Pape and the sensational conductor Daniele Gatti, and the stunned silence in which the audience received much of the performance.

But it seems to me that the wrong question is being debated. The real question is whether video directors presented with the elements of the performance at hand view these as merely the materials with which to construct something that calls attention to themselves. In this case, the elements involved include Girard's deeply considered viewpoint, performances from Pape, Peter Mattei and Jonas Kaufmann that are unsurpassed in the world today, and Gatti's tremendous knowledge of the score. The roving camera work here even obscures important ideas in Girard's production, such as the careful placement of groups of figures across the set and the synchronized movements of the massed, white-shirted male chorus. There is an electrifying moment when Mattei's Amfortas first recalls the prophecy of the salvation of the knights and the camera remains still for ten seconds, giving home viewers a sense of the power of the moment in the house. Elsewhere, however, characters seem to be gliding past on ice floes, scenery seems to be moving, and characters who are moving at the same speed as the camera seem to be standing still. The implied message is that the final masterpiece of a genius composer and the hard work of an excellent cast could never be expected to hold our attention.

Yet the DVD can be recommended. Pape is superb, even if a few notes betray that the performance started at the ungodly hour of noon. Mattei has not only found the beauty, the regret and the anguish in the music; he somehow manages to combine all three in nearly every phrase. Kaufmann is ideal for Girard's conception of Parsifal's emotional maturation. Katarina Dalayman, whose words as Kundry were mostly not intelligible in the house, makes a greater effect here through microphone placement. Gatti weaves a seamless performance that incorporates the dizziness of ecstasy, the inexplicability of some silences, the ever-bizarre nature of some moments in the music. But he nonetheless takes risks. He almost (but not quite) beaches this huge vessel at Kundry's appearance among the Flowermaidens; he inserts an effective long silence before young Parsifal admits that he doesn't know his name; and he dwells on the long seven-bar held note in the violins as Gurnemanz recognizes the returned Parsifal in Act III until it seems that the instruments may break. Girard's production is particularly striking in Act III, showing us that belief is difficult, almost impossible, and that even if deliverance comes, it may not be at all what we expect. He provides the audience with not only a representation but a physical analogue of Parsifal's tortured path.

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