Cher Public

Future imperfect

The world has come to an end and we are at the end of the world, the collapsed ruins of a bridge that can no longer be crossed. There is no greenery; the few trees that are left are dead and being chopped down for fuel.  Shell-shocked survivors wander through this hellscape, fighting over the scraps of whatever is left.  This is the milieu of director Calixto Bieito’s Parsifal seen at the Stuttgart Staatsoper on Sunday March 20.

In the director’s vision, a tentative social order has emerged here centered around leaders who dominate through a combination of charisma, intimidation, half-remembered religious rhetoric, and careful distributions from their caches of water, alcohol and drugs. Followers cling to their desire for spiritual meaning in this battered existence, finding their last shred of hope for the existence of God in the few remaining scavenged religious artifacts. Nonetheless, their faith is being overwhelmed by their doubt.

The staging was as bleak and brutal focusing on the abuse of power that seems inseparable from religion. Gurnemanz is an abusive thug, who beats one of his young charges (i.e. the sacred swan) to death as a lesson to the others and then tries to blame Parsifal for the crime.  Parsifal’s resiliency in the face of Gurnemanz’s intimidation prompts Gurnemanz to con Parsifal into battling Klingsor.  He gives him a couple of happy pills and drags him to a rally of the Grail Knights.  There is no transformation scene, but Parsifal does become spaced.

Amfortas enters carrying a large battered metal tub (the Grail?) and is in great psychic pain.  Titurel, in a suit and sunglasses, controls the unruly Grail Knights because he controls the plundered religious artifacts that they use as signifiers of his family’s power.. By the end of Act I, however, the Grail Knights are openly expressing their doubts in their “faith”.

Act II begins with Klingsor storming through his domain shooting out long arcs of fire with a flamethrower, and then pulling the buried Kundry from the scorched mud. His flower maidens are zoned-out brutalized women wrapped in plastic held together with a few strategic pieces of first-aid tape.  At Klingsor’s command they start to draw flowers on themselves in red lipstick, but their efforts at drawing devolve into disoriented, lunatic scribblings.   Parsifal arrives and marvels at this sight in a state of infantile wonder.  He kills one of the flower maidens as a child might rip apart a toy to see what’s inside.

Kundry takes advantage of his vulnerable state by letting him suckle at her breast and presenting him with a toy tractor somehow recovered from Chez Herzeleide.  As Kundry becomes more agitated and summons help,  Parsifal looks around him for some way of protecting himself and finds a large fence pole, which Klingsor defines as the “spear”

Klingsor wrestles Parsifal for the spear and Parsifal stabs him with it. and then hurls his defiant imprecations of “you know where to find me” directly at the audience as if to challenge them to return after the interval.  Kundry surveys the situation in horror and then cuts out her own tongue as punishment for her own failure.

Act III felt less compelling after the extreme, cogently argued drama of the earlier acts, because too much of the direction was concerned with confronting the audience with their expectations of Parsifal, rather than continuing the grim narration.  The now-blind Gurnemanz recognizes Parsifal and his spear; Kundry elevates Parsifal on a battered airport luggage cart, anoints him and decorates him in Godspell-ish costume that she has been carrying around with her in a worn-out shopping bag. She then adorns him with every conceivable matter of religious ornament including a bust of Wagner.  The sight of Parsifal as a “Kitschmas” tree brought some titters from the audience.

For the Good Friday Music, Gurnemanz dips into his secret stash and blisses out.   Suddenly, the doors to the auditorium fling open and Gurnemanz’s charges enter in a halo of light wearing their cherubic uniforms.  Snow even falls briefly. Clearly, Bieito is taunting the audience by giving them such a deliberately saccharine, drug-induced display for the religious climax of the work.

Dark reality returns when the Grail Knights chase down the naked, senile Titurel, throw him into the Grail / tub, and hack him to death with an axe.  Parsifal appears amongst this chaos and releases Gurnemanz from his agony by killing him with the spear.

Then, just as arbitrarily, he touches Titurel and Amfortas and revives them, still battered and bloodied.  Parsifal strips naked, climbs into the tub, and carried off in triumph.  Only Kundry remains; she pulls the last item in her Redemption Preparedness Kit, a can of snack food; she then sits munching, devoid of expression or emotion as the music quietly fades.

Bieito’s Parsifal differs from a more traditional regie production in that it does not seem to be motivated by an intellectual Konzept. Instead, the work feels more visceral, not a point-by-point refutation of the meanings that the work has taken on for the Wagner faithful, but a defiant cry of outrage at those who are drawn in by the seductive harmonies and dilettante pantheism of the work without contemplating the exploitation of women and abuse of religious and moral authority in the opera.

He uses all the means at his disposal to shake the audience out of the mind-numbing spell cast by the work, a spell more powerful than anything Klingsor could devise.  Even so, there still is a humanity to the staging.  Bieito does allow Parsifal to be bettered by his quest and find a usual mission in the comfort he can give to others even if Parsifal doesn’t understand the source of his newfound power.   Parsifal is especially attentive to Kundry; the most abused character of all.  So maybe there is a small possibility of hope to be found even in this staging.

Overall, I found it to be an extraordinarily powerful production that managed to navigate the difficult boundary between subverting the audiences’ expectations and subverting the work’s meaning to serve the director’s personal agenda. This version inspired a lot of reflection and processing afterwards, something better suited to a festival setting or a Regietournee.

Luckily, the musical performance was festival-quality in the excellence of execution, attention to detail and commitment from all participants.  The fact that it was a mid-season revival of a physically challenging production made this achievement mind-boggling (As an aside I will add that the Carmen the night before was executed at a similar level both musically and dramatically).

Manfred Honeck’s conducting was bracingly fast, but never rushed.  He shaved well over a half hour off the performance times we are used to at the Met, bringing the performance more in line with the Hermann Levi’s timing for the very first performances. This only served to underline the drama and free it from the plodding stasis frequently inflicted on this work in the name of profundity*.

Andrew Richards was the charismatic, ardent Parsifal and he sang with freshness and power.    His is an important voice and one hopes that some American theaters sign him up for some future repertory before his dance card is filled in Europe.

Christiane Iven was a ferocious, formidable match for him as Kundry.  I had previously wondered whether it was possible for singer to give a truly demented performance within the potential constraints of a regie production; she demonstrated that the answer is clearly yes.  This is a real dramatic soprano voice and she handled the extreme tessitura of the part with seeming ease.

Gregg Baker has been MIA in New York for some time now and in that period, his voice has found more power and richness than I recalled.  He did not stint in summoning forth Amfortas’ agonies and I hope his recent foray into the German rep gets a wide exposure.  Claudio Otelli was another new singer to me and he found more complexity in Klingsor than usual.

Only Attila Jun disappointed as Gurnemanz.  The voice is certainly powerful and sonorous, but his portrayal lacked nuance and he seemed to be going through the staging assigned to him, rather than inhabiting the director’s vision of the character.

*Yes, I know Toscanini’s Parsifal was the slowest of them all; but not having heard those performances I can’t judge whether he made such slow tempi work.

Photo © Martin Sigmund

  • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

    “Act III felt less compelling after the extreme, cogently argued drama of the earlier acts, because too much of the direction was concerned with confronting the audience with their expectations of Parsifal, rather than continuing the grim narration.”

    Yup, the key Bieito weakness -- and all that get-yer-bits-out-and-let’s-épater-but-secretly-thrill-the-bourgeoisie-toot-sweet gets in the way of what he might otherwise have to say.

    Perhaps he needs to confront his/our expectations of himself?

  • Will

    For those who may be unaware, Andrew Richards has a very interesting and intelligent blog balled Opera Rocks. He goes into serious detail about the productions in which he’s starring (he went to the Stuttgart Parsifal after a very different production in Brussels) and writes engagingly.

    As to singing in the U.S., he has been engaged by the MET to debut in a couple of seasons in Carmen, as has been mentioned here on at least one previous occasion. So he is clearly willing to give up some time in Europe to appear here.

    Richards appears to be a potentially very valuable singer, a tenor moving through the “young dramatic” Wagner roles with good reviews for his vocal work, one who has the intelligence and skill to internalize and present the concepts of modern directors in a way that that audiences can connect with, and who has leading man good looks.

    • He will be singing Don José, correct?

  • Henry Holland

    Ms. Fatale -or anyone- any chance of this Parsifal being filmed for future release on DVD/Blu-Ray? I’d love to see the whole thing, the clips from it are amazing.

    • My information is that at least one performance was filmed, though not for release as such. Excerpts from that film are used in the documentary Die Singende Stadt, which is basically a “making of” and includes such tidbits as Stephen Milling and Bieito arguing about the stage fog!

  • A beautifully written review, thank you!

  • brooklynpunk

    THANKS FOR THE REVIEW!!--I would love to see this production!

  • Gualtier M

    Weirdly enough, I can totally buy into this concept. “Parsifal” has a creepo vibe to it even when seen in the Disney Wagner theme park production at the Met by Otto Schenk and Scheider-Siemssen. There is this whole reverent religiosity going on and the “Wagner faithful” buy into it by not applauding before or after the “sacred” Grail acts (1 and 3 -- curtain call applause yes after a pause). There is always this back and forth between the subversives and/or ignorant who applaud and the “faithful” who shush them as Levine or any other conductor goes into the pit.

    And the opera itself is this weird farrago of religious and pagan themes souped up into a religious experience. Put over by a master showman -- Wagner posing as God. The whole things smacks of cultishness -- L. Ron Hubbard with genius. Wagner himself was hardly the image of a good humble Christian. I told the man sitting next to me at a “Parsifal” -- this is not religion it is religiosity. So turning Parsifal into a post-apocalyptic cult leader does work for me.

    On the other hand, I never pass up a chance to see “Parsifal” and have done so five or six times since 1987.

    • Harry

      Gualtier M: I could not buy into such a concept. That still of Bieito’s version of the healing bath reminded me of stories I have heard , of ‘fellas laying about -in urinals’ during a wild night on the tiles. Etc Etc. I see Parsifal as Wagner’s strange way of working out his own inner guilt atoning for ripping off poor Ludwig 2 of Bavaria, using a quasi religious way of going about it. A secular or non denominational theater requiem, if you will. Yet it abounds with all sorts of psychological angles and sublime music
      while coupled with Wagner’s ‘sacred’ setting. The fight over ‘religion & religiosity’ is, I believe a fight that is set up purely, in ourselves. If or when -- at times, we tend to be transfixed by the seductive ‘spiritual’ qualities of the music.
      It is not something where we can stand back, listening totally detached -I;E .. hearing Vissi d’ Arte from Tosca -- and objectively thinking ‘Gee, that soprano is sure making heavy weather of that, tonight’.
      With Parsifal, you are committed to being ‘totally in or out’!

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      It must be a work that you have to see live. I thoroughly enjoy the music and often listen to it (as I do a number of Wagner operas) as writing background. But even with the libretto in hand, reading this excellent review and checking out the wiki synopsis I am at a loss for understanding what the hell is going on at any given moment. It seems its a highly iconographic work so perhaps seeing a production will clear things up.

      • grimoaldo

        “Parsifal” is a work that you really have to study to understand it and when you have finally figured out what it is saying you find that it is a very weird mix of things, some good (compassion for suffering as redemption) some not so good (definitely elements in it of Wagner trying to “Aryanize” Christ and Christianity.
        Very ardent Wagnerians may howl when I suggest this, but I would recommend Robert Gutman’s “Richard Wagner: The Man, His Mind and His Music”. He sees “Parsifal” as not being holy or Christian at all, but almost the opposite.
        From a letter Gutman wrote to the New York Review of Books in 2000 : “Parsifal’s sudden insight in the magic garden was the realization that by yielding to Kundry he would dilute his purebred strain….Parisfal makes his way to the garden straight from the temple. He has just heard the humiliated King Amfortas lament the catastrophe afflicting the Grail brotherhood: he, its ruler, has infected himself by a sexual adventure with a debased inferior; his blood, sullied and in revolt, surges and rages in confusion. Here are sum and substance of Wagner’s essay “Heldentum und Christentum“: it warns of the danger such commixture poses to Germanic racial purity. That Amfortas communicates the disgrace of racial calamity in music of compelling beauty should not close the mind to his aria’s and the essay’s source in the same polluted well.”
        I am not saying that such ideas are the only elements in the drama of “Parsifal” but I think they are undeniably present.

        • Gutman is probably the most willfully misinformed commentator on Wagner in the past half century. The entire last half of the book is a spiral of circular reasoning around anti-Semitism, i.e., because Wagner was undoubtedly anti-Semitic, then everything he said or did should be interpreted as an expression of that anti-Semitism, and given all these examples just found of anti-Semitic content, we have “proved” that Wagner’s works are anti-Semitic tracts. It is hard to imagine that anyone could have missed the point of Parsifal more completely; Bieito is a devout Bayreuthian by comparison.

          The fallacy of finding all this heavily coded anti-Semitic content is that Wagner did not deal in this sort of coding on any other political or social topic in his works. Hans Sach’s peroration in Meistersinger is a bald and unadorned call to German nationalism; even Brunnhilde’s immolation scene originally included a very explicit verbal statement of the moral of the piece. So it stands to reason that if Wagner had wanted to make Parsifal a tract about “racial calamity” he would have done so in unambiguous terms.

          The text of the Amfortas monologue Gutman references:

          Des Weihgefässes göttlicher Gehalt
          erglüht mit leuchtender Gewalt;
          durchzückt von seligsten Genusses Schmerz,
          des heiligsten Blutes Quell
          fühl’ ich sie giessen in mein Herz;
          des eignen sündigen Blutes Gewell’
          in wahnsinniger Flucht
          muss mir zurück dann fliessen,
          in die Welt der Sündensucht
          mit wilder Scheu sich ergiessen;
          von neuem springt es das Tor,
          daraus es nun strömt hervor,
          hier durch die Wunde, der seinem gleich,
          geschlagen von desselben Speeres Streich,
          der dort dem Erlöser die Wunde stach,
          aus der mit blut’gen Tränen
          der Göttliche weint’ ob der Menschheit Schmach,
          in Mitleids heiligem Sehnen --
          und aus der nun mir, an heiligster Stelle,
          dem Pfleger göttlischer Güter,
          des Erlösungsbalsams Hüter,
          das heisse Sündenblut entquillt,
          ewig erneut ausd des Sehnens Quelle,
          das, ach! keine Büssung je mir stillt!
          Erbarmen! Erbarmen!
          Du Allerbarmer! Ach, Erbarmen!
          Nimm mir mein Erbe,
          schliesse die Wunde,
          dass heilig ich sterbe,
          rein Dir gesunde!

          Note: no mention of “impurity” or “mixing.” At most Amfortas calls his blood “sinful.” It is only by applying Gutman logic (“to Wagner, racial mixing was a sin, therefore when Wagner says sin he means racial mixing, and thus Amfortas is talking about his Jew-contaminated blood…”) that you can get from A to this very dubious B.

          We might also point out that if Wagner was so determined to get across a point about race, he would have taken the time to explicitly identify Kundry as a Jew. Yes, we know by inference that she is Jewish (assuming the “Herodias” Klingsor calls her refers to one of the queens of the royal house of Judea), but there is nothing to indicate that her religion or bloodline is anything more than incidental. The point of placing Kundry in antique Judea is so that she may be culpable of the most extreme example of Schadenfreude imaginable.

          • grimoaldo

            I think, Ls C, that although Gutman does overstate his case and certainly “Parsifal” is not a “tract” of any kind, that the nasty ideas that Gutman identifies are lurking in the background of the work. I know a lot of Wagnerians detest Gutman’s book but is it reasonable to assume that Wagner, who wrote many pamphlets full of racial and anti-semitic bile, would not allow such ideas to inform his stage works at all?

          • grimoaldo

            Whoops meant La C, apologies.

          • That’s a very good point. People are always trying to find deeply hidden, coded anti-semitism in Wagner’s works. It’s a good question to ponder… Why wouldn’t Wagner be more implicit if he wanted to inject anti-semitism into his operas? Why would he be coy or shy about it? He certainly wasn’t when it came to expressing his views in his writings.

          • Jack Jikes

            If Wagner wanted Parsifal to be an exemplar of uber-Aryan culture he would have changed the locale from Monsalvat to the Black Forest,

    • grimoaldo

      “Parsifal” has enormous power, I remember some writer or critic, I don’t remember who, saying that after a performance of Tristan you feel like you have drunk too much red wine, after “Parsifal” you wonder if someone slipped you a hallucinogenic drug. Not applauding after the “grail” acts is really silly, “Parsifal” is closer to being blasphemous than it is religious.

    • Gualtier M

      A list of my live “Parsifal” performances:

      Chicago Lyric 1985: Vickers, Troyanos, Nimsgern, Sotin, Becht; Perick
      Met 1991: Domingo, J. Norman, Wlaschiha, Lloyd, Mazura; Levine
      Met 1992: Jerusalem, W. Meier, Weikl, Moll, Mazura; Levine
      Met 1995: Domingo, G. Jones, Brendel, Lloyd, D. McIntyre; Levine
      Met 2001: Domingo, V. Urmana, Ketelson, Tomlinson, Wlaschiha; Levine
      Met 2003: Domingo, Linda Watson, Struckmann, R. Pape, Putilin; Gergiev
      Met 2006: Heppner, W. Meier, T. Hampson, R. Pape, Putilin; P. Schneider

      • peter

        Gaultier, the 1988 Parsifal from San Francisco would be a nice addition to your list. Kurt Moll, R. Kollo, W. Meier, J. Hynninen with J. Pritchard conducting.

        • peter

          Oops. I thought those were a list of recordings you own. I guess you can’t go back in time and attend the 1988 performance in SF.

      • Buster

        I am looking forward to Iván Fischer’s Parsifal a lot.

  • Harry

    I realize that Wagner was open to people ‘work-shopping’ his works, but I do not think Wagner -even in posterity -- would have meant his Parsifal so to speak, be renamed ‘Bieito’s Farcical’.

    • Camille

      Wagner, or Cosima in his stead or in her own right, absolutely forbade Parsifal to be performed elsewhere. The first Met performances were A Scandale!

  • lorenzo.venezia

    Thank you, Dawn. An illuminating review of something I was truly sorry to miss seeing. What people overlook is that the point of Parsifal is not Christianity per se (although Wagner chose to use the medieval grail legend to tell his story) but compassion (via Buddha through Schopenhauer). Wagner considred writing a Buddha opera but settled into Parsifal and intended to write no further operas post-Parsifal, only symphonic works (whatever that would have meant to him we will never know…) Not having seen this production, I can’t comment on the regie intent; but it sounds to me like Bieito has stripped away the cloying “christianity” that clings to Parsifal since forever thanks to the Bayreuth gang, and gotten closer to its mythic/mystic source. Anyway, thanks again for the lucid review. Brava.

    • Harry

      The only way to get rid of the ‘cloying Christianity’ in Parsifal is to cut large chunks of the Score.Instead Bieito needs a bulldozer in, to get rid of all his stage junk and stray -zombie props. As can be seen in the clips, Bieito’s anal retentive -obsessive compulsive version: it is chock full of distractions and garbage tip junk. With Wagner, the greater they strip away all the props and leave a sparse stage, using lighting as the main support props, I find the most enjoyment. Allowing the imagination to fill in, the silent activity and detail in those vacant stage spaces..like you are expected to, in some Japanese drawings. And Bayreuth back in the 50’s -for economic reasons, did exactly that.

      lorenzo.venezia says:”….but it sounds to me like Bieito has stripped away the cloying “christianity” that clings to Parsifal”

      • lorenzo.venezia

        “It is clear from the words of Wagner quoted above that he felt himself to be drawing on Buddhist and Christian sources alike, and so indeed he did in the opera as it has come down to us. The words just quoted were written twenty years before [Parsifal] was composed, and during most of that period he intended to create another opera, Die Sieger, which would be every bit as ‘Buddhist’ as Parsifal was ‘Christian’, in that central to the whole idea of it would be all the main characters’ working out of their destinies through successive lives. …This work, as I have already quoted Newman as saying, ‘haunted his imagination for another twenty years or so, but never came to fruition, partly because much of the emotional and metaphysical impulse that would have gone to the making of it had been expended on Tristan, partly because, in the late 1870s, he found that a good deal of what he would have to say in connection with it was finding its natural expression in Parsifal.”
        Brian Magee, “The Tristan Chord,” IMHO an indispensable work for appreciating Wagner.

      • lorenzo.venezia

        Harry, I was referring to the ” cloying christianity” of the way the work is customarily presented, not to its intrinsic content.

      • grimoaldo

        But is it really Christian at all? Isn’t Wagner using certain Christian symbols and imagery to create his own religion? I think he is and that isn’t really Christian, in fact it is blasphemous according to Christian orthodoxy, you are not supposed to make up your own religion, you are supposed to follow the teachings of the Church in every detail, which “Parsifal” hardly does.

        • lorenzo.venezia

          No, it’s not christianity. Wagner read Schopenhauer every day for the last twenty years of his life and through Schopenhauer embraced Buddhist and Hindu thought; he used the medieval grail legend as a vehicle for this meditation on compassion.

          • I am certainly no scholar on Wagner but I would ask if a lot of this Christian interpretation hasn’t been imposed on this work by the Wagner’s antisemitism and, perhaps, more so, the mostly Euro christian values and/or practice?

          • lorenzo.venezia

            IMHO wagner used the Christian mythos the way Faulker used the civil war or George Lucas used Joseph Campell, as the matrix from which his culture was drawn, as symbols that are part of the culture but can refashioned, repurposed. He did not use it literally or as a “believer” — he used it metaphorically, used its imagery to create a different content. Wagner’s anti-semitism was like Proust’s sadism; unfortunately with great geniuses you often get the mad components that compromise their personality but not necessarily their art or their artistic vision.

        • Harry

          grimoado: I understand and appreciate your thoughts on the matter. I think people can through the influences of music, art, whatever… form, create and mold their own form of individualized religion or personal inner spirituality -that is just as acceptable. Based on a set of mixed acquired ethics, forming a ‘sense of inner validity’ for one’s own Earthly existence.
          Even if a musical Work is labelled ‘of religious origin or influence’, any serious listener still mentally sifts (accepting or rejecting), what it represents to them as part of the human spectrum.
          I do not believe they need to follow some strict orthodoxy or let alone more importantly, need the Bieito’s of this World to enlighten them. Seeing evidence of Bieto’s Parsifal grunge or that tired placards device -- tends to make one simply ask: “Did Bieito get his dates mixed up, in that Theater? By doing what appears to be ‘an Ariadne’- attempting some alternating heavy Brecht production on the wrong night (but since the Wagnerian orchestra also arrived) decided to mix the two forces. These antiquated devices of using engineered confusion, were going on in Theater, even 30 years ago! By simply just plagiarizing someone’s wild silly ideas and then transporting them somewhere else, hoping they are then, not too much recognized.
          I forget how many ‘clever’ productions, night after night- I have proudly slept through. Where you say ‘Oh shit! Not more of that, again! There are countless others, that have suffered the same excruciating fate and experiences. In many cases, you do not have to be told who the director is…one glance…straightaway you know their individual tell-tale fixated auto-pilot style of histrionics’. Ironically I can remember snoring loudly through the last half hour of a professional mod -version of Brecht’s ‘Good Person of Szechwan’ in the late 70’s. A bright clot-director had deliberately set it locally, and used a stage setting scheme with both the colors and suggesting the advert motifs of Malboro cigs and Coca Cola!. The ‘heavenly figures’ in the plot? …suited career women, manning a upper second storey level kid’s school cafeteria.

          While such ridiculous staged situations continue -we are faced with being betrayed by opera and drama theater managements. The natural order of things …the normal result should be: that such ‘re-arrangers’ -- or alleged directors : ‘be booted up the backside ‘ ….and be put to work where they really belong. As idiots who happen to like, being noticed by the public anyway. Let;s game-fully re-employ them. Going about, cleaning public thoroughfare latrines.

    • Camille

      That Buddhist opera was “Die Sieger”, and please correct me if I am wrong. He wrote out an entire book to it; it is in a series of books published on Wagner (University of Nebraska Press, I believe, and this from memory so pleas fact check, if interested), the one is entitled “Jesus of Nazareth”.

      Harry, I am pondering what you say about Wagner’s guilt re Ludwig II. For the last few days I have been amusing myself while in my sickbed, by viewing that colossal enchilada with everything on it, “WAGNER”, starring Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave, and a cast of many other distinguished actors. It is kind of a turkey, but a delicious, juicey one. I am getting a sense from this film of just HOW dangerous this man was and how enormous a shadow he cast over the next hundred years.

      I will have to read further to see how the film may distort or reinterpret matters in a felicitous manner, straying from facts. I must say this though, Burton, at that time nearly at his own end and with ravaged face and voice does capably demonstrate that this man was a monster and delighted in being so. His outbursts againt ‘Die Judentum in der Musik’ are very frightening and give great cause for reflection. Vanessa Redgrave is particularly fine and well-cast, and I love the Ping, Pang and Pong of the greeat Gielgud, Richardson, and Olivier, as well, the finely sensitive and show-stealing scene When Ronald Pickup, in the first throes of delirium, denounces and walks out of Wagner’s’life.

      I’m not saying the movie is good or bad — it just has a lot to contemplate. As far as Parsifal is concerned, there is a scene referencing his inspiration for it, which takes place in a cathedral at Siena. I must go back and work out more of what was going on.
      Just some notes, for whomever may be interested. It was a BBC Series from 1983 — so our British contingent will have seen it.

      I loved the series of “Verdi” with Ronald Pickup and Carla Fracci. I would love to see it again.
      Well, just FWIW, fellows.

      • manou
        • Camille

          Molto obbligato, Madama.

          I will have to view from a computer someday, as I am only Blackberrying at the moment.

          Mr. Pickup was a very fine Verdi and, of course, La Fracci is always divina!

          Grand merci!

      • Harry

        Camille: Yes, I have a copy of what is left of BBC ‘Wagner’ the filmed mini series, with Richard Burton . It was once thought completely lost -- for years. Originally it was about 9 hours long and all that they found to reassemble what is left, was about 5 hours of material. That would no doubt, hinder its original intended continuity.
        Still it has some notable moments. It was not a shoddy budgeted affair,

        I think I was only eight or nine when I was first enthralled by the whole Wagner ‘cult’. As one grew though, this was dispelled somewhat- being an avid reader of History generally , and everything Wagnerian. One became aware of the great sprawling mess and wreckage Wagner caused or was connected to, with people’ lives, up until his death. Not forgetting his political activities as well.

        Putting the pieces together, in some sort of fractured mosaic -- with various chunks missing -- strong conjectures keep arising. I.E: I often wonder whether his real father was the manager of the theater he first went to work for and not the son of a policeman as stated in ‘My Life’. Wagner, without question was an complete unmitigated despicable scoundrel throughout his life. It has been said “How was he so able to manipulate ,exploit and use some many other famous people, dignitaries, composers, musicians, friends, women, philosophers etc. for his own ends and still be revered in his Time?” The answer appears, they saw the genius greatness in him and were willing to be his attached sub-ordinates’.

        There was a big article I came across once, from a U.S psychiatrist where he brought together various incidents and relationships in Wagner’s life. He then ‘forensically’ ripped open Wagner- in ways I had not seen before. Debunking Brunnhilde as the subsitute mother figure for Wagner, having latent mother-incest impulses. And the analyst sure got to work on Wagner and the themes of recurring fire -- pyromania issues.
        I once spoke to some other gay people that went and visited Ludwig’ the Second’s personal created habitats. What stuck them was the various homo -erotic fixtures there -which would in their Time -- been blatant for the 19th Century. We know that Ludwig 2 had elaborate Wagnerian ‘Disneyland -like structures’ built, so he could fantasize being ‘Siegfried going down the Rhine in a boat’ etc. Now as a slight extension: let’s just imagine the scenario when Wagner went off looking for the cash for Bayreuth. With Ludwig -financially loaded and vulnerable -- madly idolising Wagner-he would have been ‘putty in Wagner’s hands’. As many of us had witnessed and/or heard of situations in life how a human vulture will be ‘surprising adapt’ and do uncharacteristic ingratiating things to finally get what they want. In Wagner’s case: to build Bayreuth -his own self anointing dream kingdom -- something fit, for that total ego maniac, how far was he willing to go?
        The question I ponder ; ‘Did Wagner -being his hero- need to persuade Ludwig 2 with a little sex as the trump card to finally facilitate the deal’? We will probably never know, but I think it is worth keeping in mind- when thinking about the Amfortas and Parsifal relationship, under all that contrived pure sanctity, self -denial and pain of Parsifal, for his friend ‘afflicted with the clap ‘ Amfortas. Is this ‘the rather convoluted but missing mystery story mechanism’ hidden inside Wagner’s construction of Parsifal?
        It also fits… with a guilty scoundrel using their re-inventing tricks and wits ; through music in Wagner’s case to self absolve himself for past grievous failings. Throughout his life, there are glaring examples of Wagner living / reaching out -- for signs or expectations of others, to behave as if they were part extension of his opera plots.

        Wagner and his music is something worth, handling with protective tongs, learning to push aside and be distanced, from some of its codswallop. When I come across some totally embracing Wagner fan club member/ devotee that goes all the way, literally referring to Wagner as “Dear Richard” -- I just want to throw up.

  • mercadante

    The production photos and clips seem interesting and the interpretation valid. However, I do feel there is some need for editing here. I haven’t seen it but it appears to me that there are too many extraneous props and movements: all the placards and signs, the obviously well-fed German choristers milling about, it seems too much. Sometimes less can be more when making a point or the result can become a little sophmoric.

  • Thanks for a splendid review of this production. A fan of a number of Bieito’s stagings (his Wozzeck for the Liceu brought me to my knees) I had great hopes of being in Stuttgart for this (was supposed to leave today), but life got in the way and prevented it.

    Certainly this is not a staging that will appeal to everyone, but I have seen extended clips and several complete scenes and am in awe of what the director -- and his cast -- have done here. The staging of the opening Vorspiel had me misting up from the onset (the opening chords alone can do this, however) and watching in awe. The final Grail scene brought on tears to the point where I could barely believe what I was seeing. Richards final commands as the new Grail King were uttered with a complete understanding and acceptance of his role in this tortured community, his face beaming an expression of almost hypnotically dazzled joy at finding his purpose, as he is borne aloft by his knights, all leaving a pregnant Kundry to munch on her snacks and swig a soda.

    I’m perplexed by those who’ve complained about the use of nudity here as though it were some sort of titilation or shock device, when I believe nothing could be further from the truth. There is little romanticized sexuality on display, the naked bodies (of all shapes and sizes) resembling work done in elaborate neo-baroque paintings where a single image is capable of telling a story.

    I was saddened to learn (last year when the production was new) there have been no plans to film the entire opera for DVD release, only for the documentary (which I’ve seen clips of and looks fascinating in its own right).

    Several friends were at the prima, and all reported their surprise at how moved they were by something they had little more than trepidation for, going in.
    [img]http://parterre.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/_SIG5597.jpg[/img]

  • verliebtenmadeleine

    “Instead, the work feels more visceral, not a point-by-point refutation of the meanings that the work has taken on for the Wagner faithful, but a defiant cry of outrage at those who are drawn in by the seductive harmonies and dilettante pantheism of the work without contemplating the exploitation of women and abuse of religious and moral authority in the opera.”

    Jesus. If Bieito is so repulsed by ‘Parsifal’ -- and all signs indicate that he is -- why stage it? Why even bother? It strikes me as disingenuous -- not mention cheap, crass, and manipulative -- for director to exploit a public forum in order to vent his disdain for the work he is supposedly ‘directing’; not to mention the obligatory humiliation of the audience implied in such an agenda. If harassing and belittling the audience is so sacrosanct to Bieito’s vision then, frankly, he does not deserve to have one.

    • Where do you get that Bieito is repulsed by “Parsifal?” Hearing his thoughts on it I never came away with that. He speaks of it as a crisis of religion, and our obsessions with it -- even as we live in a society that has moved away from “traditional” religion. He seemed in awe discussing the “architecture” of Wagner’s score, the layerings of meaning in the libretto, and the power the story still has to us, not only as a sort of ancient miracle play, but a timelessness of man manipulating his world and surroundings -- and fellow man. From all reports, most of the audiences in two sold-out runs felt neither harassed or belittled.

      • armerjacquino

        I never understand the psychology of these accusations.

        People like Bieito can more or less pick and choose what they want to direct. Why would anyone say ‘Oooh, I hate that, I’m going to choose to devote a few months of my life to it.’

        • havfruen

          In answer to your question:”Why would anyone say ‘Oooh, I hate that, I’m going to choose to devote a few months of my life to it.”

          A recently retired opera director was quoted a number of years ago ( upon assuming his post) that he actually HATED opera and was going to do something about it ( “it” being understood as opera and not his hatred)
          I don’t think the psychology is quite so remote. Often people take on tasks that they hate in order to “reform” them. That’s well and good, except to the people who don’t feel they need reforming.

          • Such may be true (a director hating opera and “doing” something about “opera”) but Bieito’s comments consistently show someone in awe of the operas he takes on. His vision is clearly not shared by some, but many seem to appreciate it -- including a number of singers, like his current Parsifal cast.

          • A recently retired opera director was quoted…

            I’ll write the blind items here, thank you. If the person in question was quoted, then cite the quote. If not, what you’re saying is so vague as to be utterly useless.

            In fact, one can not be a blind idolater of a work and still think it worth study and the months of work necessary to interpret it. For that matter, an artist may find the struggle of making sense of an initially attractive work far more stimulating than a smoothly reverent attitude.

            But, anyway: do you mind please telling us who and what the hell you’re talking about?

    • You have missed the point about as completely as it is possible to do so. The “defiant cry of outrage” the writer perceives is not against the work itself but rather against ” those who are drawn in by the seductive harmonies and dilettante pantheism of the work…”, i.e., audiences and interpreters who (in Bieito’s opinion) overlook or gloss over certain disturbing complexities in the text in favor of other “feel-good” elements.

      • Jack Jikes

        The Lehnhoff Parsifal at ENO was one of the great events in my musical
        life. Bieito seems to take it in a similar direction BUT the essential thing that gets me into the opera house is not textual considerations but “seductive harmonies” and implicit “pantheism”. I agree with the ‘bad boys’ AND the ‘feel-gooders’. My worst experience with Parsifal was a religioso horror at Bayreuth directed by Wolfgang Wagner which closely followed ALL stage directions.

        • I would say, having seen both productions, that the similarities are superficial. Each production uses the idea of a post-apocalyptic milieu, yes, but for Bieito this is only a jumping-off point for a radical rethinking of the nature of the Grail Brotherhood (here, a cult cynically manipulated by Titurel through the conflicted Amfortas) and especially the character of Gurnemanz, who is a sort of obsessed front man for the cult, willing to manipulate, conceal important facts, threaten violence and even downright lie in order to coerce Parsifal into buying into his role as “Erloeser.” (Gurnemanz even tricks Parsifal into ingesting psychedelic mushrooms just before the Grail ceremony to heighten the experience.)

          The irony of this production is that Parsifal is just some random punk who happens along at a point when Gurnemanz is violently ranting about the “reine Tor,” and in trying to bully the boy into becoming the Grail’s new protector, he quite accidentally sets him onto the path that will eventually lead to exactly that result.

          And yet, even the “triumphant” ending of the opera is left up in the air. Parsifal first kills Amfortas with the spear, then brings both Amfortas and Titurel back to life and sends them on their way. He then strips off the cassock with the dangling religious symbols and climbs into the metal tub the Brotherhood has been using for their human sacrifices, which the chorus elevate like a coffin and carry offstage, with the company following. It is totally ambiguous whether this is supposed to represent a new, enlightened leadership for the Brotherhood, or, conversely, Parsifal’s psychotic decision to offer himself up as the next “Liebesmahl.”

    • Harry

      Ah! It looks a case of suspected ‘deja vu’- like some of us believed possibly happening, when we were mentioning Kosky as a director.. The same apparent syndrome all over again which we previously discussed here, when mentioning Brian di Palma’s early film, ‘Hi, Mom!’. Perhaps Stuttgart has never ever heard of, or seen the movie.

      Instructions -(Straight out of any Anarchist’s Bible): Take an offered directing job, mock the work to be produced , virtually spit at the audience for attending and accepting what you did, privately sneer at your defenders, get hailed for being a genius, and then go cash the pay check!

      • The trouble with Harry . . .

  • A wonderful review that has sparked an equally wonderful discussion! Thank you, Ms. Fatale!

  • Fantastic insight Ms. Fatale.

    I see, the controversy lives on. And I think that is regie theater’s greatest gift. The ignition keys. People talking, debating, intellectualizing and philosophizing.

    And a little birdie tells me there IS quite a good dvd done. Give it time. It will surface, I’m sure. ;-)

    Much to my mother’s chagrin…

    • Batty Masetto

      Hooray! Great news!

    • Batty Masetto

      P.S. about the above post 13: For those who don’t know already, if you click OperaRocks’ name you’ll find that the above news is from an excellent source. I’m surprised there’s not more excitement about it here.

      • CruzSF

        OperaRocks is no stranger to Parterre. And he KNOWS we love him!

        • No Expert

          Howdy, CruzSF, speaking of love, I was wondering if you’ve listened to the recent CD of “Ercole sul Termodonte”?

          • CruzSF

            Is this the recording with JDD, Villazon, Damrau, and an all-star cast? I’m afraid I haven’t yet. Do you recommend it?

            I’ve been rotating “Rape of Lucretia” (Rigby/Maxwell/Opie/Hickox) (tonight, I’m seeing “Lucretia” for the first time) and “Stabat Mater” (JDD/Netrebko/Brownlee/Pappano).

            I hope you’re well, No E. Glad to see you on here more frequently.

    • This is HAPPY HAPPY news, bro!

    • CruzSF

      At last. I can’t wait for it.

      Now, which “Parsifal” as an introductory recording? I’m sure the Cher Public has opinions…

      • No Expert

        Yes, that Ercole has the proverbial all star cast. I know you are a big fan of JDD. She sings Ippolita and I think she does a really nice job. She has a particularly lovely aria toward the beginning of Act II, “Onde Chiare”. Villazon sounded surprisingly strong.

        • I also loved this Ercole, and, if I might add, there is a really great Vivica Genaux there, apart from DiDonato, of course. I wad surprised how good Villazon sounded, too.
          Cruz, have you seen the Lucretia DVD with Rolfe-Johnson, Harries, Rigby, Opie, conducted by Lionel Friend? I found it amazing, and it kept me glued to the screen for nearly two hours, although I actually only intended to take a look….

          • was*. Sorry, mezzanotte here.

          • CruzSF

            Liana, I haven’t seen the DVD, but I’ve just put it at the top of my Netflix queue (I know, I’m OLD school).

          • Beware. I sat down to “take a look” at 1 a.m, and stopped watching around 3. And couldn’t sleep afterwards anyway….

          • CruzSF

            Hmm. I’m usually an insomniac to begin with. What could I play after the video to put me to sleep?

          • For me, Chopin Nocturnes and/or Gregorian chant always do the job. Or nearly so…

          • CruzSF

            I should give Chopin’s Nocturnes a try. Bruckner symphonies have done the trick for me in the past.

            Are you staying up for Le Comte Ory? (I’m about to leave the office.)

          • Yes, or at least i’ll try. It’s actually the reason why i’m lurking at Parterre instead of slowly getting asleep in my bed :)

          • CruzSF

            Enjoy! I’m sorry I have to miss most of it due to my live opera plans. And hey, H-K Hong is being interviewed tonight!

          • Thanks. Enjoy your Lucretia (if that doesnt sound very good, well, you know what i mean anyway :) )

          • m. croche

            CruzSF: weren’t the Goldberg Variations the traditional choice for late-night narcotizing?

            I’ve also been listening to a lot of Valentin Silvestrov lately -- many of his pieces, like the second string quartet, sound like the kind of music you’d experience before dying.

            Also: Vladimir Martynov -- Come In! Lovely, lovely album.

          • CruzSF

            Hahaha. Liana, I do know what you mean. You’re never less than a sweetie.

            m. croche: Goldberg Variations are a time-tested accompaniment for bedtime, to be sure. I’ll look up Silvestrov and Martynov. I always find your suggestions to be interesting.

            Speaking of which, I’ve had a difficult time finding a recording of Honegger’s String Quartet No. 2, which you recommended a few weeks (on a much different thread). Can you recommend one that you like most?

          • m. croche

            Hello CruzSF: Praga Productions/Harmonia Mundi put out a few Honegger discs for the centenary in 1992 and one of them. vol. 3, has a nice performance by the Martinu Quartet along with other non-quartet chamber music by the composer. Then in 2000 the Erato Quartet released a CD of all 3 quartets for Aura Music. My recollection is that I prefer the Martinu Quartet’s performance (more atmosphere, more style). But the Erato readings are tautly expressive and both recordings feature some lovely playing. Don’t neglect the symphonies, either!

          • CruzSF

            Thanks for the details, m.croche. Both of those recordings should be easy to track down.

        • CruzSF

          My finger has been hovering over the Buy button on Amazon, just waiting for your response.

          In general, I’m not a big fan of Villazon, but if I don’t have to look at him, I suppose he’s all right. I do like JDD, and even like her CD “Diva Divo,” although it’s not her strongest singing. I suppose that puts me in some kind of JDD cabal.

          • May I join :) ?

          • CruzSF

            I’ll be in good company, then. :-)

          • No Expert

            I haven’t been as much under the JDD spell until now. The Divo/Diva and the Vivaldi were a one-two punch. I really liked them both. Of course if ya sing something from Massenet’s Ariane ya gets extra points from me. As for Villazon….I do like him, but Ercole is not really a huge role, and he performs it well, so I think you would find him acceptable

          • CruzSF

            I’ll find out soon enough. It’s on its way from Amazon. I know I’m probably too late to hear Villazon live, but I’m glad he can pull it together for recordings. Maybe a certain Golden Girl and friends can fin second career doing only recordings.

          • grimoaldo

            Does JDD have a cabal? I thought that was only for Radvan. I guess I am a member of both cabals as I love JDD too.

          • If not, we just founded one. Open to al willing to join (or so I hope) :).

      • How about at the beginning?

        shhhh. dont tell anyone. :-)

        • lorenzo.venezia

          grazie tanto! stunning…

        • Wonderful! Thank you!

        • Batty Masetto

          This blows me away.

          I suppose a sense of un-wholeness, a feeling of a crack in the existential fabric, is somewhere at the root of most Western drama, but you’d have to be a megalomaniac like Wagner to address it head-on. Offhand, even in Shakespeare, King Lear is the only play I can think of that is willing to confront directly what our recently introduced friend Kleist called “the fragile structure of the world.” (Okay, maybe Measure for Measure too.) Like the Ring and Tristan, Parsifal gets down into the mud and wrestles with the problem. I’m quite sure it doesn’t win, but it makes a serious try.

          What I find so powerful in this clip is that Bieito is willing to do with Parsifal what Wagner was willing to do with the world – to wrestle with the underlying sense of loss that is the engine driving the whole plot. Even in a completely conventional production, the Grail society is sick. The spear is lost and everyone has to rely for their spiritual nourishment on a diseased, tormented intermediary. Seing that brought forward with the kind of careful detail that Bieito shows here is at least as emotionally engaging to me as watching a bunch of guys in monks’ robes hang out in the woods.

          And if I’m interpreting correctly what I’ve seen so far about how the production ends, Bieito is also willing to treat Wagner’s “redemption” for what it is: an attempt to will wholeness through artifice. Whether that attempt succeeds for us individually or not, even within the limited confines of a theater, probably depends on how willing we are personally to follow the new Parsifal in his bathtub. Even if that willingness doesn’t extend beyond the theater doors.

          • “Seing that brought forward with the kind of careful detail that Bieito shows here is at least as emotionally engaging to me as watching a bunchy of guys in monks’ robes hang out in the woods.”

            Bravo! Batty -- you expressed perfectly what I’ve been attempting to share with others about my feeling towards this Bieito production. Parsifal is, hands down, my favorite opera (I’m perhaps obsessed with it) and I’ve found of late I’m leaning towards productions like Lehnhoff’s and Bieito’s than I am more “traditional” Tales of the Grail settings.

      • Buster

        CruzSF -- I love the Armin Jordan set, reissued in 2009. Not as lugubrious and teutonic as some others sets. I think Harry loves this one a lot also, so it is not just me.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor