[Met Performance] CID:150180

Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, March 18, 1949

Parsifal (177)
Richard Wagner | Richard Wagner
Charles Kullman

Rose Bampton

Herbert Janssen

Joel Berglund

Gerhard Pechner

Dezsö Ernster

Margaret Harshaw

Third Esquire
John Garris

Fourth Esquire
Paul Franke

First Knight
Emery Darcy

Second Knight
Clifford Harvuot

Flower Maiden
Frances Greer

First Esquire/Flower Maiden
Inge Manski

Flower Maiden
Martha Lipton

Flower Maiden
Anne Bollinger

Flower Maiden
Mimi Benzell

Second Esquire/Flower Maiden
Lucielle Browning

Fritz Reiner

Herbert Graf

Joseph Urban

Parsifal received three performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Irving Kolodin in The Sun


Charles Kullman Appears In Title Role With Berglund And Bampton

Forgiveness and forbearance being the theme of Wagner's "Parsifal," it would be a misreading of that lesson to deal invectively with its first performance of the Metropolitan season last night. But there is Wagner as well as the performers to be considered, and it is not likely that he would have been partial to the slightness and the slowness, the paleness and the earthbound quality of this version.

Since the controlling factor was so skilled a conductor as Fritz Reiner, one can only record a thoroughgoing disagreement with his idea of how "Parsifal" should sound, from his choice throughout of over-deliberate pace to his tendency (almost throughout) to subdue the orchestra. That this was a kindness to the singers, especially to Charles Kullman singing his first Parsifal and rather successfully in acts I and III . . . hardly compensates for the burden it put upon the listener, attentive for a bit of orchestral gold and rewarded only with vocal chaff.

Musicians are familiar with the score in which Schumann has the marking "as fast as possible" succeeded, a page later, by the laconic direction "Faster." Wagner inverts this in "Parsifal," a work which starts out "Sehr langsam," with an occasional "belebt" reverting to "Etwas langsamer." This poses a special problem for the conductor; how to preserve the literal character of the work, yet not allow it to come completely to a standstill. The only solution is a basic pulse to which, everything else, fast or slow, is related.

This Reiner did not provide in the first act which is, for the most part, a reverie, and only intermittently in the second, where the underplaying of the orchestra dulled the edge of Wagner's scoring. Even the wonderful pages of the third act "Good Friday" music gave off but a dull. glow, with little of the shading or highlighting implicit in its texture. Niceties of all sorts there were, constantly, but not with the kind of boldness, assurance or conviction that Reiner had led us to expect from his "Salome" or "Falstaff." If there was a reason, the next performance may provide the answer. The Metropolitan acoustic is tricky.


In his first effort with this complex part Kullman performed for the most part with credit, especially in the third act, where his phrasing was tenderness itself, his management of the tessitura resourceful. His voice lacks the impact to deliver the apostrophe to Amfortas in the second act with anything like the ring of passionate recollection it demands, and the prevailing color was baritonal rather than tenor. But there was a progression of mood and awareness in the character he drew, a good physical illusion, an intelligent appreciation of what the role is about. In any case, a Parsifal able to maintain his position on the stage during the long ceremonial of the first act and catch the spear thrown by Klingsor (in the second) with some adroitness must be encouraged.

For that fine craftsman Joel Berglund there can only be praise for his masterful Gurnemanz, the last role he will sing here before retiring to direct the Swedish Royal Opera. Not often does a departing singer leave so vivid a memory of his best abilities. Rose Bampton has sung Kundry better in the past than she did this time, some vocal roughness being accentuated by the drawn-out phrasing required in Reiner's tempi. Otherwise, she was as much in the play as circumstances permitted. Herbert Janssen as Amfortas and Deszo Ernster as Titurel were also victims of the lethargy that passed for devotion when their parts were prominent.

For appropriate attention to the cumbersome staging, especially the ill-assorted flower maidens (whose pirouetting was more in the spirit of the Vassar daisy chain than it was of the charmers Wagner had imagined) there is, fortunately, insufficient space. Some other individual efforts were commendable (especially Gerhard Pechner as Klingsor) but the fact is, "Parsifal" is not a work to be salvaged, or made tolerable, by one individual effort or another. It either casts a spell or it doesn't. Last night it was just another opera performance, and not a very good one. Nothing of this was reflected in the reaction of the capacity audience, a model of devotion despite some unconventional applause.

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