Friday 31 August 2007
Bayreuth 2007: Parsifal
Parsifal. Bayreuth Festival 2007. Production: Christoph Schlingensief. Cast: Alfons Eberz (Parsifal), Judit Nemeth/Evelyn Herlitzius (Kundry), Robert Holl (Gurnemanz), Jukka Rasilainen (Amfortas), Karsten Mewes (Klingsor). Conductor: Adam Fischer.
To open at the the 2004 Bayreuth Festival and directed by German provocateur and installation artist Christoph Schlingensief, this Parsifal has been surrounded by controversy and debate ever since. It now plays for the last time and will be replaced by a new Parsifal directed by Stefan Herheim next year.
Parsifal occupies a special place among Wagner´s works in Bayreuth, being written specifically for this stage, where it premiered in 1882. The longest queues outside the Box office are always seen before Parsifal, and this year I noticed people starting to queue up for next days Parsifal, the moment Götterdämmerung of the day before, started.
First of all, this is not the shocking production many, of whom few have actually seen it, will have you believe.
Schlingensief works with a revolving circular set simultaneously displaying several tableaus and with superimposed black-and-white video projections representing either Namibian landscapes or the process of cellular division observed by an electronic microscope.
At these tableaus, different situations were played out involving several non-speaking. He creates an eclectic mix of several cultures: Carribean (several semi-naked black women in Caribbean dressing), African (predominantly video projections from the directors previous trip to Namibia) as well as Christian (multiple symbols relating to Jesus Christ, sin, foregiveness etc.).
A rabbit appeared several times – as a ragged doll, a live animal (which by the was was adopted by the alto soloist Simone Schröder after the performance) and finally as the infamous decaying rabbit corpse. The large on-screen projection showing the decaying rabbit during the final four minutes of the opera was in fact a very powerful image, and the only aspect of the production which I felt had a real potential for controversy. Amfortas appeared in a non-speaking role throughout the opera – especially in the scene between Parsifal and Kundry, and Klingsor put in an extra appearance as well by having his feet washed by Kundry in the 3rd act.
A tentative suggestion as to what may be Schlingensief´s main point: Redemption by intercultural exchange/assimilation? Or maybe not at all.
What remains, however, is that Schlingensief has created a very flickering production. Had he been more disciplined, I would expect his artistic points to have emerged more clearly.
Schlingensief has in fact not directed Wagner´s Parsifal, but created an installation work of art, which I´d be tempted to name “Schlingensief with underlying music from R. Wagner´s opera “Parsifal”". Which does not principally bother me, were it not for the fact, that too much attention was taken away from the music by all the happenings on stage. Furthermore, I was rather busy trying to sort out the multiple ideas presented on stage, making the entire experience rather stressful. Not to mention, I am unconvinced I understood it.
Surprisingly I found the audience perhaps even more undisciplined than Schlingensief. There was an immense amount of noise in the Theatre. A couple of people chose to leave approximately 1 minute into the prelude, scrambling down the hard wooden stairs, before the curtain was up. And throughout people were whispering loudly to their companions about the happenings on stage.
The audience response was predictably not positive. You are not supposed to like this production. I was, however, surprised about the scattered applause after the 1st act, sinceI expected it to be customary not to applaud here. By comparison, in Munich, earlier this year, the auditorium was dead-quiet after the conclusion of the first act.
Patrons have been rumoured to leave this performance after the first act, and accordingly I spotted several people with suche karte signs waiting outside the Festival House after both the first and second act, something I did not see during intermission at the other performances apart from Götterdämmerung (I didn´t see anybody leave, though).
Evelyn Herlitzius was vocally indisposed and acted the part of Kundry, while it was sung outstandingly by Judit Nemeth. Jukka Rasilainen was in good voice as Amfortas, but tended towards yell at certain dramatic points. Robert Holl was in rather good, though not brilliant, shape as Gurnemanz and Karsten Mewes is necessarily in very good physical shape, as he impressively climbed backwards 20 steps up a steep ladder in the middle of his solo. That apart, his Klingsor was rather anonymous. No doubt due to the Festival House acoustics, Alfons Eberz voice, as did most of the others, seemed larger than earlier this year at Deutsche Oper.
However, Parsifal really is a conductors opera. And in that regard I was disappointed by Adam Fischer´s static and anonymous reading.Far away from the glittering brilliance of a Christian Thielemann or the compelling drama of a Daniel Barenboim, which may be heard virtually around the corner.
In brief, there is no musical reason to go and see Parsifal here, house acoustics and history apart, particularly not when you have a vastly superior Parsifal playing just 400 km away. Hardly satisfying for the Bayreuth Wagners.
In summary, I was almost disappointed by the predictability of the staging, expecting major provacations based on available press reports. However, if Schlingensief becomes more organized, he may actually be a rather superb opera director.