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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On listening to Parsifal

We're coming up to Holy Week and I find myself non -church affiliated these days (is that even a term?) But as I age I am drawn more to the contemplative in music. The Donizetti-Bellini can still thrill but I'm more sustained now by Wagner and Bruckner (Monteverdi will always be a great love for his mixture of piety and eroticism) Years ago when living in New York I made it a habit to see Parsifal whenever it was being done at the Met. For me, unless Texaco was picking up the tab-which they did once, with brunch yet-that meant upstairs standing room. Two dollars back in the day. You could easlily touch the rotting gold leaf on the Met's ceiling. Friends and I used to walk in with sandwiches and beer. No bag checksor exams in those more relaxed days!

We needed the sustenance for Parsifal. Let's not kid ourtselves. It's nearly five hours. I never found Parsifal long in the way I still find Die Meistersinger or Siegfried. From those first muted chords in the darkness, I was always enthralled. Parsifal always began in total darkness, with the music rising up out of the pit and up, way up into the air, above the dirty ceiling and bottles of beer of those of us standing. Remember too, no titles in those days. I never knew this opera well enough to know what they were singing. German is not my language, except for the ocassional 'ach so!' and 'recht gut!' I looked up "Der reiner Thor (the innocent fool), and "Wein und Brot" was easy enoguh. But the music itself cast a spell. I know Tristan is Wagner at his most devastating, driving people nuts with its delayed and sometiems absent resoultions. Parsifal has always taken me to a deeper place, more of contementmet and a kind of cathartic sadness. I looked forward to Parsifal every year-I was drinking beer in those days so it may have helped, no more-and always left contented, feeling I've had an experience akin to worship in preparation for Easter. And mine was a pretty profane life back then.

My Parisfals were Jon Vickers and Timthy Jenkins (who alas died young) Placido Doming came a bit later. Vicker's cry of "Amfortas! Die Wunde!" still frightens me and I last heart in in 1984! My Guremanzes (?Gurnemanzen?) were Kurt Moll or James Morris...Simon Estes was Amfortas (how I wish I could have experienced Goerge London!) and Kundry was Tatiana Troyanos or Leonie Rysanek. Many of them are in heaven now, presumably, Morris and Domingo God love them soldier on. Levine condcuted. I remember his balance between music and emotion was perfect. He never wallowed and he never allowed the drama to sag or get lost. He knew we needed the hedonistic Act II and we got it. And the magnificent Met orchestra and chorus. For $2 in stnadin room and you didn't mind bringing your own beer.

I can't get to the Met anymore. Youtube, the web, and my own collections bring me Parsifal from 1936 in Buenos Aires, 1951 Bayreuth, the 50s and 60s, Vienna, Levine, Domingo, and my touchstone, the 1962 Bayreuth performance with Knappertsbusch conducting London, Thomas, Dalis and Hans Hotter. Hotter's may be the most beautiful voice I've heard on a man. Ah! It is good to get older!

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