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Richard Wagner: Parsifal, WWV 111
Ryan McKinny (Amfortas), Karl-Heinz Lehner (Titurel), Georg Zeppenfeld (Gurnemanz), Klaus Florian Vogt (Parsifal), Gerd Grochowski (Klingsor), Elena Pankratova (Kundry), Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus, Hartmut Haenchen (conductor)
Filmed live at the Bayreuth Festival - 247'
Deutsche Grammophon 35350 (or Blu-ray 0735353) - Format: NTSC Color 16:9 - PCM Stereo DTS 5.0 - All regions - Booklet in English, French and German - Subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean

Much ink has been spilled discussing Uwe Eric Laufenberg's 2016 Bayreuth production of Wagner's Parsifal. Laufenberg pulled no punches in adopting a controversial vision for Wagner's swan song, and reviews of the premiere were mixed. Some praised Laufenberg's production for being "refreshing" and "a musical triumph", while others called it a "lukewarm vision that drew chuckles" and a "washout". After several viewings, I'm inclined to agree with the latter two opinions.

Committing to the purchase of this DVD depends largely on whether the spectator wishes for the musicians (including the composer) or the director to be the focus of the production. It's clear that Laufenberg craves attention throughout, and his directorial voice drowns out even the most splendid singing and playing on display. Those who find his addiction to blood, skin, and heavy artillery attractive will be much pleased here, and, in terms of craftiness, his vision is impeccable. Others (myself included) will find that the superficial sheen soon becomes overblown gaudiness, especially in the second and third acts.

Laufenberg seems intent on erasing all ambiguity and mysticism from Wagner's story. Titurel literally appears on stage instead of, as specified by Wagner in the score, "from the distant back" as if rising from a grave. Likewise, the ending of the opera lapses into a preachy endorsement of assimilating one religion to attain redemption. Instead of provoking the audience to think, Laufenberg feeds us his interpretation on a heavy-handed spoon.

Vocally, the cast is strong, most notably the impressively-judged Gurnemanz of Georg Zeppenfeld. His stage presence is magnetic, and his voice carries easily over Wagner's orchestration, with gorgeous legato lines and hearty accentuated passages. After the first act, Ryan McKinny acts and sings with a bit too much vigor for someone with a perpetual wound, giving his Amfortas little of the range or vulnerability the singers like Bernd Weikl brought to the roll. It wouldn't be surprising if this were another of Laufenberg's choices, directing his singers to impress on the surface but avoid emphasizing their characters' nuances.

Elena Pankratova sings a memorable Kundry, but has a tendency toward melodrama, even in moments that could use more subtle sniveling. Gerd Grochowskis has an easier task, eschewing plenty of Klingsor's venomous temperament with an appropriately brassy tone. Klaus Florian Vogt seems to want to emphasize the naïveté of Parsifal at every possible turn, and, like McKinny, ends up presenting a rather one-dimensional character.

Hartmut Haenchen, in his Bayreuth debut and replacing Andris Nelsons, conducts with an energetic pace throughout, and the Bayreuth orchestra and chorus sound phenomenal. Whether or not Laufenberg's production agrees with any one consumer's wants and needs, those in charge of capturing it for DVD have produced a stunning memorial. Technically, the DVD looks and sounds fantastic, and there is a judicious amount of zooming and panning. There are better options, but for the already-initiated, this offers an intriguing, if not entirely convincing, new version to digest.

Marcus Karl Maroney




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