Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival — ‘A washout’

Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal. Photo: Enrico Nawrath©Enrico Nawrath

Klaus Florian Vogt as Parsifal. Photo: Enrico Nawrath

The barricades began at the bottom of Bayreuth’s iconic Green Hill. Hundreds of uniformed police stood by, some of them giggling nervously the atmosphere was 1 of mild hysteria. Really who they have been attempting to shield from whom, and why, seemed clear to no one.

There was no red carpet at this year’s Bayreuth Festival opening. The official state reception was cancelled. Safety, even for the duration of the rehearsal period, has been so extreme that at one particular point tenor Klaus Florian Vogt was seized by mistake. He was wearing complete military attire and carried no identification can you blame them?

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Because Germany does not have a royal loved ones, it pays disproportionate focus to the petty upheavals of the Wagner clan. The theatrics around this year’s new Parsifal production had been intense. Provocative artist Jonathan Meese was hired to direct the production, and then sacked once again, ostensibly because his idea was as well pricey. The fact that he was also prosecuted (and acquitted) for employing the Nazi salute for the duration of one more artistic efficiency may possibly have been entirely coincidental.

Perform-a-day opera director Uwe Eric Laufenberg, who occurred to have a Parsifal concept in his back pocket, was hired to cease the gap. Then, with much less than a month to go before curtain-up, star conductor Andris Nelsons bailed out. Was it since Bayreuth’s famously undiplomatic music director Christian Thielemann had been sitting in on his rehearsals, telling him how to conduct? In an effusive interview following the occasion, Thielemann insisted that Nelsons could not possibly have objected to his effectively-intended suggestions the two conductors have been “almost friends”, he added.

Mercifully, Wagner veteran Hartmut Haenchen was cost-free, and the production could go ahead. Then came Good, Würzburg, Munich, Reutlingen, Ansbach. Germany was unsettled. Laufenberg’s production was rumoured to be overtly vital of religions, like Islam. On the edge of panic, probably overestimating its own value, Bayreuth girded its loins for disaster.

In the finish, there were no calamities only a series of disappointments. Sixty prime seats stayed vacant as Wagner hopefuls queued for tickets — nearby politicians who could not attend declined to return their unused tickets. A ban on cushions, classic accessories to soften six hours on Bayreuth’s notoriously uncomfortable seats, was issued. Police rifled by means of handbags and patted down dinner jackets, but identified absolutely nothing suspicious.

There was no overt criticism of Islam in Laufenberg’s production. Such as it was, his notion showed a generic religious order (monks’ robes, crucifixes, prayer mats, prayer shawls, chadors) in a war-torn society. A cruel ritual of drinking blood from Amfortas’s wound peters out when Parsifal returns in the third act and everybody casts their devotional accoutrements into Titurel’s coffin. Think about no religion. As a remedy to Wagner’s cryptic “redemption of the redeemer”, this is a feeble work.

For a provincial German property, Laufenberg’s staging would be acceptable. His handicraft is unimpeachable, and there are some fine details, which includes brief but gorgeous video interludes (Gérard Naziri) in the very first and third act. But for Bayreuth, which has small purpose to exist if it is not setting globe standards in Wagner interpretation, it is a washout. Following Christoph Schlingensief’s 2004 voodoo exegesis and Stefan Herheim’s complex hymn to the work’s reception history in 2008, the Parsifal bar in Bayreuth is set high. Laufenberg falls far quick of the mark.

Not so Haenchen, whose conducting is a single of the best issues about the evening it was higher time for his Bayreuth debut. His is a sober, intelligent, meticulously crafted Parsifal, not offered to the ecstatic or transcendent gestures that Nelsons may have brought. With his modest clarity and tender insight, Haenchen tends to make a Parsifal that is totally his personal — no mean achievement beneath the situations. This is a secular humanist take on the piece that actually does have weight.

Also outstanding are Georg Zeppenfeld’s virile, articulate Gurnemanz and Elena Pankratova’s impassioned Kundry. Ryan McKinny’s Amfortas sounds much less wounded than he looks, although Vogt produces his trademark choirboy higher notes in the title part, even if his palette of vocal colours is restricted and his phrasing frequently wooden.

Angela Merkel, who frequently attends Bayreuth openings, stayed away. Sensible lady.

To August 28,

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Section: Arts