Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Sunday 17th May, 3.00pm

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra



  • Wagner  Parsifal, 306′

“In this realm, time becomes space”. Wagner’s Parsifal tells of the knights of the Holy Grail: a story of truth, suffering and redemption, set to music so beautiful that it pierces straight to your very soul. Andris Nelsons has been hailed around the world as one of the finest Wagner conductors of our time: this concert performance of Wagner’s final opera should be transcendent.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2 and 3 are 118’, 63’ and 75’ respectively.
There will be a one-hour interval after Act 1, and a 30-minute interval after Act 2.

Storify audience reaction to Parsifal here


Review by David Karlin, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “Individual vocal phrases were also brought through with the full richness of their character. When Burkhard Fritz’s Parsifal cries out the he feels Amfortas’s wound, we feel the stab of heart-wrenching pain. When Mihoko Fujimura’s Kundry tells us that she is forever cursed because she laughed at Christ, her scream of “ich lächte” rips through the hall. At the end of Act II, he tells Kundry that she knows where she can find him, his near-whisper drips with derision.

Acts I and III are the domain of the elderly knight Gurnemanz, and Georg Zeppenfeld gave a performance of exceptional lyricism, bringing out the fundamental kindness and nobility of the man with a timbre that is smooth and powerful all the way down to its lowest notes, and phrasing that continually added splashes of sympathetic colour.     […]

[…]     Fujimura’s powerful mezzo achieved just as much smoothness and control as Zeppenfeld, spanning the far greater emotional range demanded by her role. Fritz excels at the heldentenor technique for long notes, in which a single note develops in colour and dynamics as it progresses. His attractive voice transmits great feeling for this music.

The supporting cast were uniformly impressive. Wolfgang Bankl sang Klingsor with much power and venom, employing a lot of parlando in a way that provided a total contrast to Zeppenfeld’s lyricism. James Rutherford gave us particularly well-rounded phrasing as Amfortas, while Paul Whelan’s Titurel, sung from high above the orchestra near the organ, was especially powerful. Amongst a fine set of flower maidens, Erica Eloff was especially notable with a voice that soared high above the orchestra.

But the performance’s high point came from Nelsons and the orchestra. The music in Act I for Parsifal and Gurnemanz’s ascent to the Grail castle was delivered with an immense degree of measured power. It’s music of incredible rapture whose effect was even palpable on the performers: Fritz could be seen blinking back the tears in his seat.”     …


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “There is urgency, spaciousness and radiance in Nelsons’ approach, and a total understanding of how the climaxes of both of the outer acts build like series of overlapping waves of ever increasing amplitude. The CBSO played out of their skins for him, as if all too aware of what they will lose when he steps down in two months’ time. The Transformation Music in both acts had spine-tingling power and grandeur, the Good Friday Music sustained lyrical beauty, and the choral set pieces, with the CBSO Chorus making full use of Symphony Hall’s spatial effects, had fabulous clarity and precision. Perhaps the numbed prelude to the third act was less bereft, less intensely tragic than some great conductors make it, but in Nelsons’ hands it was still intense and mysterious.

Despite its swan shooting, magic garden and hovering spear, not to mention time becoming space, Parsifal loses less in a concert performance than most operas, and this was not simply a sumptuous orchestral and choral treat. The soloists were outstanding, every one an experienced, totally assured Wagner singer, and the drama was fiercely etched. Burkhard Fritz was Parsifal; he was a little stolid in the first act, perhaps, but gained steadily in presence until his assumption of authority in the final scene became utterly authentic. Georg Zeppenfeld was the Gurnemanz, noble, never histrionic and making every word of his first-act narration crystal clear. James Rutherford was Amfortas, stoically resilient in his great lament. And while there was nothing remotely vampish about Mihoko Fujimura’s Kundry in the second act, her control, even beauty of tone, and musical poise proved startlingly effective alongside Wolfgang Bankl’s fiercely stentorian Klingsor.”     …



Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

Click here for full review

“This fleet, magical performance of Wagner’s Parsifal in the warm generous acoustic of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall was one with the highest musical values allowing those present to revel in glorious playing and singing without the distractions of a director’s ‘know it all’ interpretation. From the start of the Prelude the CBSO produced playing with sheen and bite, with warm string sound, punchy brass and some superlative playing from the woodwind soloists. Using the spatial possibilities of the Hall to maximum advantage the off-stage chorus was above and behind the bulk of the audience, and the off-stage brass behind the stage. The tricky integration of the Bells of the Grail Temple was superbly realised. The atmosphere when the composer’s intentions were properly considered and realised was about as perfect as one could imagine.

Andris Nelsons’s Wagner was alert and energetic, yet the sense of architecture and purpose felt unerringly correct. It was also very dramatic and intelligent. The Prelude was an instance, where the initial appearance of the chorale associated with the rituals of the Grail Knights had an indefinable coolness to it, perfectly delineating their spiritually uncertain state. Only in the final pages of the entire score did these themes finally get the full glow as Parsifal takes control and harmony is restored. Likewise Klingsor’s restless motifs were very obvious in the first Act where he does not even appear. In the middle Act there was sensuality with a touch of detachment – again perfectly appropriate.”     …


Review by Peter Quantrill, ArtsDesk:

Click here for full review

…     Fujimura, too, had the unique ability to fill the hall without great apparent effort: there is a rounded, vatic quality to her dramatic mezzo which suggests that it is coming to the listener at the end of a long tunnel. As Gurnemanz, Georg Zeppenfeld most nearly approached her authority, with a scrupulous use of the text to lift his lengthy narratives, and a gently resonant, bell-like bass that fell easily on the ear. Rutherford’s Amfortas also sounded well in the hall, and comfortable, too much so to leave more than a neutral impression of compromised kingship.

The effort to do more than sing must be considerable under the antiseptic conditions of a well-lit concert hall, but Fujimura made it, seemingly with the prop of her Bayreuth experience foremost in mind, since the Kundry of this first act was no wild woman but a stern governess fully in charge of James Rutherford’s Amfortas while simultaneously in thrall to forces of arrogance and shame she is only beginning to understand, knowing rather than wounded in her retort to the impertinent squires (sung by Alexander Sprague and Edward Harrisson), “Are the beasts here not holy too?” Chemistry with her saviour and master in Act Two was never confined by her imagination but by the limited responses of Fritz, and the stolidly sung, gruffly presented Klingsor of Wolfgang Bankl.

Without yet having led a performance from the pit – that time will surely come, and soon – Andris Nelsons has a clear vision for the piece, at least in the first two acts, and after eight years as Music Director, he has the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra right at the end of his baton: the orchestral response was remarkably prompt, and in a neat accelerando back-out of Act One’s communion scene to the knights’ dispersal, he conducted with progressively smaller beat to bring everyone together with him. He is well prepared to pull around the tempo rather than plod through recitative,”     …


Review by Anna Picard, Spectator:

Click here for full review

…     “The pristine acoustic of Symphony Hall was intrinsic to the numinous sonority of on and off-stage voices and instruments in Acts I and III and the raw tumult and refined sensuality of Act II. From the purity of ‘Durch Mitleid wissend, der reiner Tor’ to the steady glow of redemption at the close, Nelsons and his players and singers balanced expressive urgency and expansive musical architecture. Words and music combined to extraordinary intensity, with the simplest phrases among the most powerful — Amfortas’ ‘Wehe! Wehe!’, Kundry’s ‘Dienen, dienen’. This was an outstanding cast, from Burkhard Fritz’s tireless Parsifal to Mihoko Fujimura’s tormented Kundry, James Rutherford’s gleaming Amfortas, Wolfgang Bankl’s snarling Klingsor, Paul Whelan’s sepulchral Titurel, Georg Zeppenfeld’s humane, understated Gurnemanz and the beautifully supple sextet of Flowermaidens. The silence at the end, held in the splayed fingers of Nelsons’ outstretched hand, was electric.”


Review by Geoff Brown, The Times (££):

Click here for full review

…     “And the CBSO Chorus, as always, sang with perfect togetherness and hearts of oak.

On the podium Nelsons continually leapt from his seat to press the score’s surges of ecstasy or the sublime. Yet every phase and detail seemed part of an organic whole, driven along by a conductor and splendiferous orchestra in perfect sync, at least for a few more weeks.”