Wednesday, 28 March 2012
Best Parsifal on DVD - 1992 Barenboim Kupfer Berlin production
Parsifal. DVD. Berlin State Opera 1992. Prod: Harry Kupfer. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Cast: Poul Elming (Parsifal), Waltraud Meier (Kundry), John Tomlinson (Gurnemanz), Günter von Kannen (Klingsor), Falk Struckmann (Amfortas), Fritz Hübner (Titurel).
With 20 years delay, finally we now have the 1992 Berlin State Opera production of Parsifal, quite simply the best presentation to date of Parsifal on DVD.
Harry Kupfer, at this time artistic director of Komische Oper, the smallest of the three opera houses in Berlin had no real possibility of staging Wagner in his own house, thus the collaboration with Daniel Barenboim, the newly appointed musical director at the Berliner Staatsoper, 200 meter further down the Unter den Linden.
This was Harry Kupfer´s second attempt at Parsifal, the first dating from the 1970´s also at the Berlin State Opera, which could be seen at the Copenhagen Royal Opera House as well until a few years ago (I saw it at least twice). In that first production, Parsifal renounces the brotherhood chooses to leave the community with Gurnemanz and Kundry taking the spear and the grail with him, which was at the time seen as a politically charged criticism.
However, for this, his second Parsifal, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things looked different, for Parsifal as well. In a semi-mythical, futuristic setting, circular door reminiscent of spaceships separate the inside and the outside - both pitch dark, with metallic and electronic cold surfaces. The grail community is a sick community: Characterized by a strong bond, the knights seem fixated on the Grail, oblivious to anything else.
involved stage direction. The flower maidens show their various body parts on TV screens, only Kundry, is a real, three-dimensional woman. In the end, the knights are oblivious to Parsifal, focusing only on the Grail. Kundry takes his hand as if urging him to leave, but after a moment of reflection Parsifal choses to stay with her and Gurnemanz.
And why exactly does this work? Because of the combination of Harry Kupfer´s excellent direction of the singers (his trademark), the aesthetic stage designs (by Hans Schavernoch), Barenboim´s superb reading of the score and some of the best singers of the generation.
The singers are what Kupfer wants: Young, agile singer-actors, all in their vocal prime, most having already worked with Barenboim/Kupfer in their just terminated Bayreuth Nibelungen Ring, also the best Nibelungen Ring on DVD. The static nature of Parsifal simply needs involved personal stage direction to work dramatically. As well as singers, who master their parts, obviously.
Is Waltraud Meier the best Kundry in history? Honestly, I think she may well be. Here, stunningly beautiful in her vocal prime (36 years old), already with 10 years experience in the part, her dramatic commitment and effortless vocal flexibility is unparallelled. This is her third Kundry on DVD, with the Metropolitan Parsifal recorded the same year, but leaving her with fewer dramatic options.
Poul Elming, the Danish tenor, who started out as a baryton and got his international breakthrough when Daniel Barenboim selected him as his Siegmund in the Bayreuth Nibelungen Ring, is a committed and entirely believable Parsifal. He also appears on the recently released 1998 Bayreuth production conducted by Sinopoli. John Tomlinson, in his vocal prime, a charismatic Gurnemanz, who tells his stories so you want to listen to them. A young Falk Struckmann is a fine, though already at this point slightly grainy Amfortas, while the Nibelungen Günter von Kannen makes a fine Klingsor.
While Christian Thielemann has the glitzy brilliance, Daniel Barenboim the weightier punch, which is ultimately the most satisfying approach. He quite simply understands the structure of Richard Wagners compositions, better than he understands the structure of anything else I have ever heard him conduct (which is, in fact, a lot).
An easy first choice on DVD.
Act III, Mittag:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Poul Elming: 4-5
Waltraud Meier: 5
John Tomlinson: 5
Günter von Kannen: 4-5
Falk Struckmann: 4
Harry Kupfers production: 5
Daniel Barenboim: 5
Overall impression: 5