[Met Performance] CID:99170
Parsifal {114} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 04/6/1928.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
April 6, 1928 Matinee


PARSIFAL {114}

Parsifal................Rudolf Laubenthal
Kundry..................Gertrude Kappel
Amfortas................Clarence Whitehill
Gurnemanz...............Michael Bohnen
Klingsor................Gustav Schützendorf
Titurel.................William Gustafson
Voice...................Marion Telva
First Esquire...........Ellen Dalossy
Second Esquire..........Philine Falco
Third Esquire...........George Meader
Fourth Esquire..........Giordano Paltrinieri
First Knight............Angelo Badà
Second Knight...........Louis D'Angelo
Flower Maidens: Louise Lerch, Nannette Guilford, Ellen Dalossy,
Editha Fleischer, Charlotte Ryan, Marion Telva

Conductor...............Artur Bodanzky

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the New York Tribune

'Parsifal' Given at the Opera's Good Friday Matinee

For those who are not responsive to it, "Parsifal" must be an afflicting thing indeed. But those to whom it speaks - as a rite, as a spectacle, or merely as a work of art are evidently not few, and clearly they are devoted. Yesterday's performance had been sold out for days, and the Opera House was jammed throughout the long and exhausting session, though Spring beckoned in the streets more alluringly than a whole stage-full of Metropolitan Flower Girls - which, we fear the cynical may say, is not so much.

It was a wise move on the part of the Metropolitan management to reduce the "Parsifal" performances to one a season, and that on Good Friday afternoon. The more completely "Parsifal" is specialized, the more pointedly it is given the character of an event, the better for it and for its audiences, It is best even for those who love it most steadfastly that they should not hear it too often. As for those who love it not, there are a few things easier than avoiding it altogether - unless they happen to be professional listeners, in which case their plight is truly pitiful.

Mme. Kappel's Kundry had not, of course, been witnessed here before. Her performance yesterday was not so telling as it was when we heard her at the Prinz-Regenten Theatre in Munich. But this may have been due to the embarrassment of the unfamiliar business imposed upon Mme. Kappel by the considerable difference in the treatment of the seduction scene of the second act in the two opera houses. Her voice was not at its best in the [first] pages of this scene - that first wonderful G-flat lacked beauty and power and seductiveness; and later on, in "Ich sah das Kind," Mr. Bodanzky's hurried tempo seemed to disconcert her. But she acted for the most part with the pliant and significant grace which is characteristic of her, and much of her singing was as touching and tonally lovely as it has been before. Mr. Laubenthal as Parsifal surpassed himself - as he has never sung nor acted the role so well here. Mr. Whitehill's Amfortas is one of the classics of the Wagner theater - it was particularly touching in the final scene.

The production as a whole still suffers from relaxed and unimaginative stage direction. The temple scenes, for example, are capable of far more controlled and expressive handling. As for the perennially troublesome Flower Girls, that problem is satisfactorily dealt with only in Munich - which has many things to teach us. We still think, for example, that the Metropolitan's Klingsor is a poor judge of nighties. Why, by the way, one wonders, was the old Conried set for the Magic Garden revived at yesterday's performance? Even Mr. Urban's riotous fantasies are preferable to this!

Yet we fancied that yesterday's performance showed the benefit of the present one-a-season schedule. It was less routined in spirit; the general temper of the interpreters was more concentrated and intense. Mr. Bodanzky, in particular, who has sometimes conveyed the impression that he is not deeply sympathetic toward the special quality of "Parsifal," overcame more than once whatever antipathy he may feel toward the music, and gave us one of the finest readings of the third act that has ever been heard in New York - save for that passage which he continues so inexplicably to minimize. For Mr. Bodanzky still hurries damagingly the great episode over the ostinato of the bell-motive in the transformation scene, with its descending step-motive for the brass. Those who have never heard this passage played in the tempo and with the emphasis that Wagner asks in his score can have no idea of the overpowering impressiveness which belongs to it. But Mr. Bodanzky's reading of the act as a whole, especially its matchless first scene - the arrival, recognization and anointing of Parsifal, and the "Good Friday Spell" - was penetrated with the essential moods of the music, its poignancy, its elevation, its ineffable tenderness.

This act - this scene, in particular - is for many the chief treasure of the score. Wagner gave music a new tongue, a new accent, when he composed these marvelous pages (as the aging Cesar Franck well knew, and a cloud of witnesses after him). The grave and piercing beauty of this novel chromaticism, so different from the chromatcism of "Tristan," laid its spell upon the music of the quarter century that followed it, until the War gave us another world, another generation, and another art - though we need not say a better.

But no praise of yesterday's excelling performance of this transcendent Act has been more than begun until it has included a tribute to Mr. Bohnen's Gurnemanz. Mr. Bohnen has seemed at times, in other roles, determined to qualify as the Bad Boy of the Metropolitan company. He is always unpredictable and unaccountable, and his capacity for grieving the judicious is particularly unlimited. As it happens, however, Mr. Bohnen is also an interpreter of genius. Self-willed, wayward, perversely wrong as he often seems, he can also be superbly and conqueringly right.

Yesterday was such an occasion. We have before in these columns had the privilege of saluting Mr. Bohnen's Gurnemanz, but his impersonation has never taken us quite as it did yesterday. Mr. Bohnen, when he wills, has an extraordinary power of imaginative substantiation. He does not always apply it justly or fully, but when he does, the result is likely to be memorable. It is memorable in his Gurnemanz. This is the realized image of the character as it lives in Wagner's text and music - boundlessly compassionate, wise, benign.

Gurnemanz has a bad reputation, even among the most faithful of the Wagnerites. He is reputed to be a bore - long-winded, intolerable; and usually he seems so. But Mr. Bohnen shares a secret to which some of us have long been privy; that this need not be so. The trouble has been with the interpreters - dull, perfunctory, unimaginative. Mr. Bohnen has known and dwelt with the real Gurnemanz, and yesterday he set him before us in the flesh - a venerable and magnetic figure, of commanding beauty and nobility, with the radiance of a transfiguring humanity in the face and the warming glow of it in his voice. He moved through the drama as its dominant and most gracious influence, and his presence, in the final scenes, composed it like a benediction.



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