Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra

Richard Wagner: Parsifal

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The Mariinsky label's release of Wagner's Parsifal, with Valery Gergiev leading the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra and Chorus and a majority of Russian soloists, is proof that the company is competitive with the top tier of international opera companies not only in Russian works but in the broader repertoire. Parsifal is a demanding opera to pull off, and in this magisterial, broadly paced reading, Gergiev and his players make it sound gorgeously luminous while at the same time maintaining a sense of dramatic urgency. The generous acoustic of the Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre gives the music a warmth and radiance that practically shimmer. Vocal honors go to René Pape, whose lyrical and intensely sympathetic Gurnemanz seems destined to go down as one of the outstanding interpretations on disc; his performance alone is easily reason enough for any Wagnerian to hear this version. Also outstanding is the Klingsor of Nikolai Putilin, a monster of snarling malevolence. In comparison, the rest of the cast, while never less than solid and secure, is not quite at the level of these exalted standards. American Gary Lehman is entirely fine as Parsifal; he sings with strength and focused tone, but he does not have the starry charisma or vocal distinction to make him a Parsifal for the ages. Lithuanian soprano Violeta Urmana is dramatically potent as Kundry, but as is the case with Lehman, her singing doesn't rise to the level of that of Pape. Evgeny Nikitin sings with resonance as Amfortas. The strength and vision of Gergiev's leadership, the delicacy and power of the orchestra's playing, and the very fine level of singing overall crowned with Pape's unforgettable performance make this a version of Parsifal that should interest fans of the opera and would be a good introduction to listeners new to it.

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