- Parsifal, opera, WWV 111
The most obviously newsworthy aspect of this Parsifal, taken from live performances at the Vienna State Opera in June 2005, is that for the second time in less than a year Plácido Domingo has recorded a complete Wagner opera -- something that tenors in their mid-60s usually don't attempt. Unlike his acclaimed studio recording of Tristan und Isolde, this release casts Domingo in a role he has often sung in the opera house. He's recorded it before, too, under James Levine's direction at the Metropolitan Opera in the early 1990s. A decade on, his singing is just as beautiful, and his interpretation seems deeper and more perceptive than ever; it's obviously a role he feels a strong musical affinity for and evidently a spiritual one as well. But without slighting Domingo at all, it becomes clear quite early in the opera, long before the tenor even appears, that what really confers the highest distinction on this recording is the work of Christian Thielemann, who once again proves to be the finest Wagner conductor of his generation. Throughout this long opera -- and especially in its slowly unfolding scenes of ritual action at the ends of Acts I and III -- Thielemann magically sustains the music's large-scale journey at a consistently engrossing level, eliciting radiant sounds from the orchestra all the while. The remainder of the cast, too, is top-notch: Waltraud Meier's Kundry, long a fixture of the opera stage, achieves moments of truly scary intensity, and Falk Struckmann as Amfortas and Franz-Josef Selig as Gurnemanz are equally compelling in their mastery of Wagner's rich bass-baritone roles. Neither Domingo's fans nor those who simply love Parsifal will be disappointed by this deeply rewarding performance of Wagner's uniquely transcendent final opera.