Larry Bridges | Arlington, MA United States | 07/10/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The sound quality of this radio broadcast recording is lackluster, although this does not prevent it from being enjoyable. The performance is in Italian, not German, and the score is abridged--a practice which is often considered a greater sacrilege in dealing with Wagner's operas than with those of any other composer. Baldelli gives a disappointing performance in the title role. Yet nonetheless this recording is recommended because it features Maria Callas as Kundry, one of the few Wagner roles she sang early in her career and the only one preserved in a commercially available recording. Callas' wails of terror when Kundry realizes that she is again in Klingsor's power and, above all, the ferocious power of Callas' high note when she tells Parsifal that she laughed at Christ on his way to the cross will knock you back in your seat. Since the recording is primarily valuable as a document of Callas' performance (although the excellent playing of the orchestra under Vittorio Gui shines through the limited sound), it doesn't really matter that the performance is in Italian, and the only cuts anyone will regret are those which diminish Kundry's role. Unfortunately there are a few such cuts, most notably in Act II, Scene II, although most of Kundry's most important moments are there. A recording which comes on three CD's, is more than three hours long and, most importantly, features the incomparable Callas (although her role is not that large--in Act III she moans and then sings precisely two words) is definitely worth the modest cost of this album. (One quibble is that the synopsis of the opera in the thin booklet provided--which contains no libretto--seems slightly inadequate. Specifically, it says essentially nothing about Act II, Scene I, so that at first I thought that scene might have been omitted from the original radio broadcast.)"
Five-stars for its niche
L. E. Cantrell | 07/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with many points of the previous thorough review, so I'll not rehash...but I have to say this outstanding presentation is more about Vittorio Gui and Wagner than anyone else--it is about Gui's comittment to ensemble and devotion to great art. Here we have the Rome RAI Orchestra, an outstanding ensemble, really giving us a performance it was capable of in the early 1950s (and the orchestra hasn't faded since, believe me). How this immaculate, polished, powerful, considered, and dramatic performance of 1950 was by the same outfit that ran the relatively slovenly Ring with Furtwangler beginning two years later would be beyond anyone except to think it has to do with the occupant of the podium.Gui was an extraordinary conductor whose care, vision, sense of scene, finish, and wide culture put him in the distinguished group with Paray, Markevitch, Cluytens, Molinari-Pradelli, Previtali, Ferrara, Camargo Guarnieri, Beecham, and Gavazzeni. This kind of talent applied to Wagner gives us what's important to presentation of the composer's works: attention to textual aesthetic, meaning, and metrical certainty, all important and very Italianate. Wagner writes time and again that he wanted these qualities and was sorely at a loss as to why he could never get them.Gui is totally committed to the story and the worth of the proceedings, everything is perfectly worked out to dramatic reason and scene, the orchestra is fastidiously prepared to an inch of its life so that the polish and elan comes from complete confidence in and surrender to the maestro and idomatic immersion. It respirates this music. The result is that the characters follow the orchestra, that words supplement the expression, that understanding is elemental. Africo Baldelli gives an outstanding performance, subtle, psychological, running the gamut of emotions, with a lovely tenor with no Teutonic woof in the belly but with plenty of gleam in faultlessly placed highs. His sense of metre is so un-Bayreuth, so un-Teutonic that he has you rooting for Parsifal as a real man and not a half-duped demigod of no real intelligence. This is a total characterization, highly original, extremely musical, responsive to Gui's every direction. We applaud Gui's casting and bemoan the tragic brevity of what could have been an immortal career from a promising tenor.Callas follows and, as expected, gives us a real woman to Baldelli's real man, no blowzy old dirndl "expression" to make up for textual vacuity or incomprehension. It seems to me that in taking a lot of hits in cuts, Callas may actually have been the source of them, bringing her part far more into structural balance with the title. Her commitment and musicality are just too good to not have been involved in textual decisions, and if so, she deserves our unbounding esteem more than we've ever known. Callas seems to communicate this to Christoff whose commanding presence and peerless singing are in turn pointed toward Baldelli, urging him on in his endeavor as lead. It's a triumph of acting and singing ensemble and direction, and anyone who cares about this opera will be overwhelmed and delighted both at once. So overall, this is an extraordinary achievement that renders Wagner totally understandable, shorn of traditional schlamperei, with superb vocalism and complete attention to what Wagner was actually doing with his orchestra. The sound is OK, though it was better on an earlier LP issue from Cetra, and is worth every penny of your money and hour of your considered listening."
Wagner would have said, "SHOW ME THE MONEY!"
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 02/08/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The question has been raised on what Wagner would have said if he had learned of a production of "Parsifal" in Italian. This question, like that on "what songs the sirens sang", is not wholly beyond the bounds of speculation. Since a letter from Wagner exists in which who wrote of looking forward to a production of "Tristan und Isolde" in London--as soon as he could obtain a decent singing translation into English, I think that the great man might well have said, "Italian? Fine with me." Then, like Verdi following the triumphant premier of "Falstaff", he would have asked about the box office receipts on the second night.This recording is for Callas fans. Don't sweat the little stuff, like language."
Buy this for Christoff.
Stephen T. Kulig | Pomfret Center, CT USA | 08/13/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with the two previous reviewers, except that for the price I don't expect a libretto, however I do expect that the track listing would also have the time of each track. This set does not; it doesn't even have the times for each individual disc. The other Opera D'Oro sets I own have the same problem. I don't believe that this small addition would increase the price. I enjoyed the set. "Parsifal" seems to translate well to Italian. The cuts in Act I are bearable (Scene I is very long without cuts). What I enjoyed most was Boris Christoff's Gurnemanz. While very different from Talvela or Hotter (Christoff roars through the part as if he were singing Mephistopheles from Gounod's "Faust"), it is enjoyable none the less and worth the cost of this set. This is not a first "Parsifal." But for the price it is a welcome addition for those who want to hear other conductors and singers in Wagner's most moving opera."
Buy this for Maria Callas' Kundry
The Cultural Observer | 11/10/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As great as a Maria Callas fan as I am, I cannot recommend this Parsifal to those who want to understand the opera. This truly is a great performance, yet the cuts are so all over the place that the whole idea behind Parsifal, the innocent fool who would bring salvation to the Knights of the Grail, is ruined. I would praise Maria Callas' Kundry and Boris Christoff's Parsifal superlatively, especially La Divina's Kundry. I think she offers one of the most complete Kundry's on record, each note and each word relished beautifully. Each psychological inflection is exposed, and we have a great understanding of what the character of Kundry, who desires only an endless sleep after centuries of reincarnation, really wants. Maria Callas offers that, and I would put her Kundry beside those of Christa Ludwig's, Martha Modl's, and Jessye Norman's. And, because of her unique voice, being able to sing all the female voice's parts, she can be said to have the most emotionally sung Kundry, and beautifully sung too. This was fat Callas with power and artistic intelligence. She was also able to give life to one of opera's most complex heroines.
Boris Christoff is a great Gurnemanz, but once again, because of the obnoxiously huge cuts, his contributions to the part have been cut down, but not too considerably.
Vittorio Gui could have made a landmark Italian Parsifal, but his cuts have cut short some integral parts of the score. Still, Callas' Kundry is a great addition to your library."