Even among opera lovers, Wagner's "Parsifal" has an undeserved reputation of being a pious, marathon bore. Tonight's Metropolitan Opera production (at 8 on KCET-TV Channel 28 and at 7 p.m. on KPBS-TV Channel 15) will do little to change that opinion.
For the production, created in 1991 and filmed for broadcast over several days in 1992, conductor James Levine has assembled his favored Wagner team, who gave the Met its new "Tannhauser," "Die Meistersinger" and "Ring" cycle. Again, the emphasis is on traditional realism.
Otto Schenk provides literal traffic-cop direction, Gunther Schneider-Siemssen designs pretty greeting-card sets (but the bobbing, wire-stemmed flowers in the meadow scene look just silly), and Rolf Langenfass creates the Prince Valiant costumes.
All that might be tolerable if it were offset with enlightened musical values. It isn't.
The problems start at the top, or rather, at the bottom. In the pit. Levine conducts with dullish tempos, emphasis on long, smooth, uninflected lines and scarcely a shred of spiritual illumination.
The approach is generalized. As Gurnemanz, Kurt Moll uses an ample, resonant bass to spin out long, unemphatic phrases, largely indifferent to Wagner's text. Bernd Weikl applies the same approach to Amfortas but sings with a wobble so wide it's as if he's been wounded in the throat by the Sacred Spear, rather than in his side.
Siegfried Jerusalem may be a little long in the tooth for the title character, and his lyric tenor grows alarmingly frayed over the three acts, especially when he sings under pressure. (He is not the only one in the cast who seems to bellow in the house, however.)
Even so, he makes the sacrifice of tone and pitch work to his advantage in the dramatic confrontation with Kundry, and in his plea for forgiveness there, he has one of the only two affecting moments in the telecast.
Waltraud Meier, as Kundry, has the other, as she registers a complex of emotions when Parsifal baptizes her. Actually, Meier invests all her scenes with intense acting, credible seductiveness and powerful, creamy vocalism.
Franz Mazura makes a bitterly evil Klingsor, although the collapse of his magic castle looks rather paltry on the home screen.
Otherwise, Brian Large's camera work, with its frequent cutaways and close-ups, helps clarify the drama. His long tracking shot of Levine and the orchestra during the Prelude impresses for seamless continuity, but surely requires a camera trolley obstructing the view from the front rows. Apparently the high-paying Met patrons don't object to this intrusion.
Sonya Friedman's subtitles are serviceable but fail to translate Kundry's curse of Parsifal fully, so that viewers may not completely understand how his salvation is tied to hers.