UPDATED 31/7 WITH REVIEWS BELOW
Though nothing beats a live review (any readers actually present at this premiere are most welcome to comment), I suppose the below post combining my impressions from the live radio transmission including a description of the staging accompanied by plenty of the photographs surprisingly posted on the Bayreuth Festival webpage, gives a crude impression of what to expect.
As I have not actually seen the staging (yet, I hope), I obviously may not offer an actual opinion on it (though it does seem mighty interesting...).
The audio part, however I will offer a brief opinion on:
First of all, I found Daniele Gatti rather superb: A slow interpretation, but with a grand scope and only occasionally did the tension drop. Furthermore he applied some unconventional and very rapid shift of tempi, which however worked rather well. Some of it was notoriously slow though, such as the end of the 3rd act transformation music with the slowest chords I have ever heard...
The word Italianate comes to mind, but seems rather too obvious. Of recent Bayreuth Parsifal conductors he seems closest to James Levine.
However, none of the singers were exceptional, ranging from Kwangchul Youn´s generally wobbly and inexpressive Gurnemanz (though he vastly improved in the third act), Detlef Roth´s equally shaky Amfortas to Mihoko Fujimura´s beautiful, but very smallvoiced, placid and inexpressive Kundry sung in Mozart-style. Mihoko Fujimura honestly should not be singing this repertoire as she would be stunning in Mozart. Clearly, the best singer was Christopher Ventris with a fine, dark-voiced and espressive Parsifal, though slightly under pressure in the top. The flower-maidens hopefully sounded better live than on the radio...
Difficult to judge the level of applause from the radio, but clearly there was massive applause for Stefan Herheim and his teams´s solo curtain call, entirely unusual for a Bayreuth premiere..
New York Times - "Most startling was to hear straight-faced, seasoned Bayreuth fans during intermission express surprise at the sight of Wehrmacht soldiers and Nazi banners during Act II, recalling old days at the festival. It all seemed so inevitable."
Associated Press - "a welcome assault on the senses"
Agence-France Presse - "a learned and scholarly exploration of the history of "Parsifal" itself..[Daniele Gatti] gave one of the slowest-ever readings of Wagner's longest opera, stretching the score out to four hours and 40 minutes"
Financial Times - "The performance works on so many levels that you emerge challenged and stimulated: Bayreuth at its best."
Corriere della Sera - "the Wagnerian rites were seduced by Daniele Gatti"
International Herald Tribune - "A Parsifal that revels in its novelty"
Der Standard - "Angela Merkel gave the director red roses" (!)
Le Figaro - "A politically correct Parsifal"
A reasonable selection of the German reviews:
Der Westen - "a historical-political, but also fragile and emotional evening"
Schwäbischen Zeitung - it looks like they left after the first act...
Süddeutsche Zeitung - "In Stefan Herheim´s staging, the stage technicians work more than anyone else, pushing the singers into the background"
Die Welt - "convincing throughout"
Abendzeitung - "superficial storytelling with no time for individual characterisations"
Tagesspiegel - "Stefan Herheim destroys the Bunker-mentality of the Bayreuth Festival"
Frankfurter Allgemeine - "At this point, with young directors such as Stefan Herheim in Bayreuth, it is about time that the Festival officially comes to term with it´s own past. Winifried Wagners diaries must not necessarily be released immediately. A small inscription on the sculptures in the Festival Park would be a fine start"
Frankfurter Allgemeine - "A drama without the phi.osophical-dramatical aspects. Are you allowed to do that?" written by René Kollo
Der Spiegel - "a grandiose show"
Berliner Zeitung - "a moving production, of a kind not seen to often in Bayreuth lately"
Crescendo - "finally an evening to remember in Bayreuth"
Merkur-Online - "five hours too little for Stefan Herheim´s phenomenal journey"
Nord-Bayerische Kurier - the opinions of the VIP premiere guests..
Nord-Bayerische Kurier - "the Grail is a globus"
A 16-pages supplement to Kurier with all sorts of information about this Parsifal (in German) here.
A short video clip from the performance may be seen here.
A photo-gallery here.
Stefan Herheim´s concept in brief: A time travel through the history of Germany, from the unification (1871) to the wirtschaftwunder (economic miracle of West Germany after 1948). A historical and political Parsifal.
Heike Scheele is the set designer. In an intermission interview, Daniele Gatti explained how they had worked very closely together during rehearsals, how Stefan Herheim knew the entire score and had a very musical approach to the work (he originally trained as a cellist).
The following description of the staging are based on reports from Bayern 4 Klassik Radio (where the reviewer was quite enthusiastic) illustrated with photos from the Bayreuth Festival website.
Act 1: Herzeleide´s death is played out during the prelude. Then we are inside as well as in the garden of Villa Wahnfried (here serving as the Castle of Monsalvat) just after the unification of Germany (1871). The setting is that of dream-theater - a mix of reality and phantasy with a surrealistic air to it. Kundry ís a dark bird of the night. Parsifal´s alter-ego is a child, emerging from the swan, if I understand it correctly. The Grail Knights in the end were soldiers marching towards the first world war.
In theory, audiences in Bayreuth do not applaude after Act 1. However, both this and last year they did.
Act 2 - Klingsor´s Castle is a lazaret. Klingsor appears a Lucifer with black wings, apparently neither man or woman. The flower-girls initially are nurses tending the wounded soldiers, transforming into seductive 1920 showgirls. Kundry appears a Marlene Dietrich look-a-like. When Parsifal rejects her, we suddenly are in the Third Reich, with Klingsor as a Göring- look-alike. Parsifal´s defeat of Klingsor is a victory over the Third Reich, with mighty Nazi banners as well as marching Nazi soldiers falling lifeless to the floor as Parsifal points his spear at them.
The flower maidens as nurses:
Act 3: Set immediately after the end of World War 2 in the ruins of Villa Wahnfried, where Gurnemanz is asleep in the garden. Water springs from the well when the black-clad Parsifal touches it with the spear. In the transformation scene the light goes on in the entire auditorium and the audience sees themselves reflected in giant mirrors onstage in front of the the Bundestag (German Parliament) in the 1950´s in front of which the opera ends. Kundry is, as always, alive..
Stefan Herheim during rehearsals: