(Dec 12) Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role in a new live recording of Wagner’s Parsifal that Sony Classical will release on 1st March 2024.  It derives from performances at the Vienna State Opera under Philippe Jordan with Elīna Garanča as Kundry, Georg Zeppenfeld as Gurnemanz and Ludovic Tézier as Amfortas.

Press reactions following the first night in the spring of 2021 were unanimously positive. ‘Der Standard’ spoke of “a feast of fine singing” and even of “a sensational cast”, while ‘Die Zeit’ hailed the achievements of “a luxurious ensemble”.  Time and again the critics mentioned the wealth of nuance in the musical interpretation. As the ‘innocent fool’ Parsifal, Jonas Kaufmann was praised for his ability to modulate between a bewitching mezza voce and the most thrilling dramatic outbursts. Two singers were tackling their roles for the very first time: Elīna Garanča was making her long-awaited debut as Kundry, to which she brought sovereign authority, while Ludovic Tézier was singing his first Amfortas.  Both Tézier and Georg Zeppenfeld as Gurnemanz brought a bel canto beauty to their roles in the spirit that Wagner himself had always valued.  Internationally acclaimed as Hans Sachs in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Wolfgang Koch gave a riveting performance as Klingsor.

The production had been eagerly awaited but had to be presented – and recorded – without an audience when it was finally unveiled in April 2021 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.  The director Kirill Serebrennikov took his cue from the line ‘Here time become space’ and set the work in a prison.  Serebrennikov had spent a number of years under house arrest and on probation and at the time in question was banned from leaving his homeland with the result that he had to direct his new production from a distance, while a team of associates worked on the staging in Vienna.  His concept of the work as what the ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’ called an “opera on the theme of liberation” and as what ‘Der Standard’ described as “a multilayered drama about human relationships” proved convincing. ‘Die Welt’ spoke of a compelling “futuristic dystopia”.

It is unsurprising that Wagner’s final music drama continues to fascinate audiences to this day thanks to its Grail-related mysticism, its Christian symbolism and its underlying questions about guilt and atonement.  Nor should we forget its harmonically dense narrative vein, its complex use of tonality and tone colours, its psychoanalytical advance on Wagner’s earlier works, its highly metaphorical and detailed symbolism and, last but not least, its duration.  All of these elements represent a tremendous musical challenge for both the orchestra and the soloists.

Philippe Jordan had already conducted a whole series of other productions of the work elsewhere, including the 2012 Bayreuth Festival and so he was intimately familiar with the score’s musical demands.  However, as the Swiss-born conductor has observed: “Every Parsifal conductor must do more than simply guide the performance, he must also allow certain aspects to run their own course if he is to do justice to a work of such monumental proportions.”

Wagner’s Parsifal with Jonas Kaufmann, Elīna Garanča, Georg Zeppenfeld, Ludovic Tézier, Wolfgang Koch, the Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera under the direction of Philippe Jordan will be released by Sony Classical on CD and digital formats.