Parsifal – Bühnenweihfestspiel in three acts to a libretto by the composer
Gurnemanz – Louis Hendrikx
Parsifal – Jon Vickers
Kundry – Amy Schuard
Amfortas – Norman Bailey
Klingsor – Donald McIntyre
Titurel – Michael Langdon
1st Esquire – Nan Christie
2nd Esquire – Delia Wallis
3rd Esquire – David Lennox
4th Esquire – John Dobson
1st Knight – Edgar Evans
2nd Knight – Dennis Wicks
Flowermaidens – Kiri Te Kanawa, Maureen Keetch, Talia Or, Anne Howells, Alison Hargan, Anne Pashley & Marjorie Biggar
Eine Stimme – Anne Howells
Choristers of the Royal School of Church Music
The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Ande Anderson – Director
Recorded 8 May 1971 at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: February 2009
CD No: ROYAL OPERA HOUSE HERITAGE SERIES ROHS012 (4 CDs)
Duration: 4 hours 43 minutes
Here’s a recording of another of those expansive Wagner performances conducted by Reginald Goodall. One’s reaction to it may well be determined by whether you feel that the measured tempo adopted by the conductor enhances or detracts from the dramatic experience, especially without the visual aspect of the performance.
Though this run of performances did not perhaps have the ‘legendary’ status of the Sadler’s Wells “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” this current recording does allow one to register that in many respects the conductor’s approach to “Parsifal” did not change much in the years from this performance to his later ones for Welsh National Opera and English National Opera in the 1980s. Here he has a cast to be reckoned with and which is generally superior to the recording with WNO forces, which adopted the cast of that production excepting that Kundry was sung by Waltraud Meier (in the first of her four commercial recordings of the role).
Goodall’s measured approach to the score is much better suited to the outer acts. The ‘Prelude to Act One’ is well judged, sonically luminous, tension and the necessary sense of timelessness established early. The orchestral players cope well with the demands made on them – although both woodwinds and brasses have occasionally sour or watery moments.
There is much beauty, too, in the passages that accompany Gurnemanz’s long narration and this character’s long-living with the history of the grail and the spear and the events involving Amfortas’s decline. It helps that the Belgian bass Louis Hendrikx has a voice of such colour and resonance and a way with the words that bring these passages to vivid life. The same is also true of the bass-baritone of Norman Bailey – who delivers a long-breathed and coloured account of Amfortas’s contribution. The sorrow, pain and anguish is all there in the voice, and the portrayal is thankfully not over-histrionic. His long experience of singing under Goodall allows him to inflect so much into the text. And one of the advantages of Goodall’s approach is that every word is audible.
Where Parsifal and Kundry are concerned, things become problematic – and this is surely the fault of the conductor more often than not. In Act One we encounter the wild Kundry and the unrestrained, impetuous and unthinking Parsifal – stirred on by his vision of the knights in armour he has seen as a boy. Goodall’s failure to ‘up the tempo’ for the depiction of this moment at “Und einst am Waldessaume vorbei” renders that moment curiously inert. The same occurs when Kundry tells how she rode past the dying Herzeliede.
This tendency to restrain their music is unfortunately carried into the Act Two. There is little of that propulsive quality needed to make Klingsor’s realm seem magical or alluring, despite the wonderfully malevolent presence and biting tone that Donald McIntyre’s Klingsor possesses. On paper the wonderful line-up of flower-maidens (including Kiri Te Kanawa, Anne Pashley and Anne Howells) sounds most appetising but the tempo means that the passage drags and there is not a hint of menace lurking at the root of their vocal cajoling of Parsifal.
Jon Vickers is in direct, plaint and heroic voice, but his reputed stage intensity does not seem to have been allowed full reign on this evening. His German is idiosyncratic. He is more interesting in another live recording on Orfeo, which hails from Bayreuth in 1964 and conducted by Knappertsbusch, who also had a tendency to slowness but Vickers seems more responsive.
Amy Schuard is a vocally strong if slightly edgy-sounding Kundry, better suited to the character’s untamed side than the seductress; a balance needs to be found between these facets to fully realise the complexities of Kundry. In addition, Schuard is taxed by the slow pace of ‘Ich sah das Kind’ and also lacks recklessness for Kundry’s curse at the close at Act Two.
The Chorus is in fine fettle and makes a pleasing sound; these singers’ contribution to the final part of the opera finds them, Goodall and Norman Bailey at their best.
The stereo recording is admirably clear and there is very little intrusive stage noise. Balance between voices and orchestra is extraordinarily fine. As ever with this series, the discs are beautifully packaged. The booklet boasts some amusing pictures, and the text, as well as an interesting introduction to the performance by John Deathridge, which gives a fair assessment of its qualities and deficiencies. Goodall and Bailey admirers will want to hear and own this set; but other versions, including live ones, capture greater theatrical elements to “Parsifal” than does this one.