Wagner’s Parsifal has been served rather well on Blu-ray and DVD in the last few years. The 2016 Bayreuth recording is another interesting addition to the list. Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s production is not exactly traditional but it’s not “in your face” conceptual either. The setting is contemporary and various visual clues locate it where Europe meets Asia; perhaps the Southern Caucasus. The grail temple is run down. There are soldiers and refugees and tourists, as well as the Grail knights. There’s plenty of Christian symbolism around. The “swan scene” is played straight. The “communion scene” uses Amfortas as the source of the communion blood; an idea which seems common enough. Here he’s wearing a crown of thorns (and not much else) and there’s lots of blood.
In Act 2, Klingsor’s realm has a lot of Muslim symbolism. The architecture is Islamic. We see the flower maidens in burkhas then in “harem” outfits. But there’s a room full of crucifixes. The back story of Amfortas’ seduction is enthusiastically acted out by Kundry and Amfortas. Otherwise it’s pretty straightforward.
Act 3 takes us to a lush forest where a much older Gurnemanz and Kundry are hanging out in Gurnemanz’ hut. In the anointing scene, Gurnemanz anoints Parsifal who then anoints Kundry. Renewal takes place. Young women appear from the forest. They look after Kundry. They dance naked in a waterfall. An Adam type figure appears. This is reinforced by projections during the Good Friday music. In fact projections are used to good effect in all the orchestral passages. Back in the Grail temple representatives of many religions implore (a much aged) Amfortas to reveal the Grail. Instead he shows them the dust that is all that remains of Titurel. Parsifal arrives. Amfortas’ redemption is implied. Everyone leaves amid a lot of smoke, leaving Titurel’s coffin strewn with religious relics on an empty stage.
It’s not easy to summarise the messaging. There’s a sense that although the Grail religion is Christian it also encompasses/unites all religion. There’s a strong sense of Redemption; even of a return to Eden, but there’s no sense that anything in particular (apart from Amfortas’ sin) caused the Fall. Kundry seems more universal, less wild, less “other” than usual. Whatever the messaging, it’s often visually arresting and the story telling is clear and affecting.
It’s also musically and dramatically satisfying. Klaus Florian Vogt is a very lyrical Parsifal who portrays the maturing of the character very effectively. Georg Zeppenfeld is an avuncular, almost nerdy, Gurnemanz. He may not have the gravitas of Pape (who does?) but it’s very good singing and a valid characterization. Elena Pankrotova does a really nice job with an unusually enigmatic and sympathetic Kundry. Ryan McKinny navigates the relatively violent emotion swings of Amfortas with skill and musicality. Gerd Grochowski as Klingsor and Karl-Heinz Lehner as Titurel are fine. Helmut Haenchen conducts. It’s a fairly brisk reading but it loses none of the grandeur and the textures in the orchestra are admirably clear.
Michal Beyer does a good job of capturing the production. Mostly he’s pretty non interventionist but he’s prepared to put in the odd overhead shot when it makes sense. His filming of the very end is effective too. On DVD he’s backed up by a decent picture and quite good DTS surround sound. This is a work and a production though that could use every last bit of transparency and detail; sonically and visually, so I rather regret not seeing it on Blu-ray. There are no extras on the disks. The booklet contains an essay which, for once, is actually about this production plus a synopsis and track listing. Sub-title options are English, French, German,Spanish, Chinese and Korean.
This is a very worthwhile recording, worthy of consideration alongside the very fine Girard production at the Met and the shattering Tcherniakov effort in Berlin.