Parsifal (Bayreuth ‘53) with Clemens Krauss at the helm. In the same year that this wonderful Parsifal was performed Krauss gave us an equally wonderful Ring des Nibelungen. A performance that became my favorite live Ring. Listening to Krauss in Wagner makes me wonder if there ever was a better conductor for this music.
Parsifal was the only Wagner opera that was composed exclusively with the acoustics of the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth in mind. It was the first opera that was performed in Bayreuth after the second World War. From its premiere in 1882 to the first cycle of performances in Bayreuth after World War II (in 1951) the opera was considered a "life-changing" event for those who were lucky enough to see it (among them Gustav Mahler, who attended the opera in 1883).
This "life-altering" experience took me quite some time to digest. The opera comes pretty close to an oratory and can be an exercise in slowing down (I do appreciate Knappertsbusch '51 now but Goodall got me lost between the notes). It was not until I heard the Boulez Parsifal from 1970 that the music started to make sense to me. Thanks to the relatively fast tempi from Pierre Boulez - that were on par with Clemens Krauss' and Richard Strauss' renditions of Parsifal in Bayreuth. Boulez himself noted that his tempi were not that much faster than the tempi Hermann Levi conducted during the premiere in 1882 (in 1966 Boulez used 61 minutes for the second act vs. Levi 62 minutes, 70 minutes vs. 75 for Levi in the 3rd act and 100 minutes vs. 107 in the first act). Parsifal is often considered a solemn mass for true believers with its broad tempi to emphasize the spiritual grandeur of the whole thing. But it was the Parsifal from Clemens Krauss that converted me. Lively and swinging are not the words that are used to characterize the piece Parsifal is but Krauss does a wonderful job to make a case for it. I have the Andromeda remastering from 2009 and although the mono sound might not be for hifi-buffs the quality is more than acceptable for me. I noticed that after my visit to Bayreuth, having heard the famous acoustics first hand, I started to extrapolate the 50's Bayreuth sound into an impressive theater experience at home.