Sunday, August 12, 2012


Parsifal in Bayrueth. Two weeks ago exactly, on Sunday the 29th, in what now seems like a dream, I heard it in the house.

The Stefan Herheim genius production, brilliantly conducted by Phillipe Jordan, was the most hauntingly beautiful music theatre imaginable. In a nightmarish slow evolution of time and place, and person, we are taken into a morphing boundary-less world, across the great Wars, before being suddenly precipitated in the cold glaring reality of the present, an Act 3 struggling to sustain the tension,  impact and sheer brilliance of conception of the first two. I had the good fortune to meet the director during the second interval and found myself babbling out something like it was just beyond wonderful and like being on a full-on acid trip, to which he generously smiled and said - just like the piece. Replete with complexities, references, layers and subtleties it is worthy of seeing over and over again. Not that tickets to Bayreuth exactly grow on trees. Anyway, this year is the production's last run so praise the deities that it is being telecast, as I type.

It is relevant to know it starts inside the rear salon (the bay window onto the gardens and fountain) of Wahnfried, Wagner's house in Bayreuth. Wahnfried is being restored for 2013 and the immediate house gardens are derelict at the moment as workman and trucks come and go.

I went back for a second visit the morning after the performance to revisit and linger at 'the scene' and to take this photo showing Wagner's grave, which is significantly ever present in the production extending from the prompt box back over the pit, with Wahnfried in the distance beyond the circular fountain. The fountain also features a lot in a production whose smoothness belies the incredible technical complexity.

Here are Acts One and Two for starters from ARTE. Having been in the house, the edits and close-ups irritate a bit, simply because they tend to break the trance and the depth of illusion. The Festspielhaus you'll remember was designed to create the vast illusion, and that it does. Wherever you are, once the lights go down, the shape of the auditorium, the proscenium and false proscenium, the unseen orchestra and the enveloping sound (and Parsifal was especially written to be played here, and only here, and the orchestration designed to match the acoustic) all conspire to completely absorb you in, rather than be a spectator of, the action. It is an absolutely unique experience.

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Addit 14 August

Act 3 is now up above. Quite a few bloggers are linking to the broadcast, and saying watch it while you can in case it is pulled. The DVD will follow and I can't wait. I am looking forward to watching this with the English translation, although in the house it was perfect to let the music and drama carry me with what I already knew, which was significant if far from word perfect.

While I've mentioned above that Act 3 struggled to sustain the tension of those preceding, it was the final scene I meant, and that was no criticism per se but simply the outcome of being so overwhelmed by the preceding. *Spoiler alert*. I am now watching the incredibly moving arrival of the silvered 'stranger' into the devastation, no time or place in this nightmare, and recalling the impact of the Gethsemane Golgotha imagery, at least as I saw them and wish you could see the perspective I experienced, chilling spine tingling stuff. The close ups aren't helping. The mirrored final scene will follow, a bit off-putting at first (in the I've-seen-this-done-before sense whereas everything else has been revelation) but the more I think about the importance of emphasising that this is our dream, our nightmare, our creation of our own reality, at the most simple superficial level (which I see everyday at work) down to the deepest metaphysical belief (which I fully accept as the truth - see my 'about me' on the upper right) the more I like the cold brutality of it, and then the more optimistic we-are-the-brotherhood, the world, salvation is in, and only in, our individual and collective hands ending. Which is in stark contrast to the darker ending of the last Parsifal I saw, which thrilled me no less at the time, but is now well surpassed. I love that. I don't mind - just give it to me I say. It's why it's addictive.

And isn't Jordan making such magic happen.

Addit addit 14 August, still

Here's a very worthwhile link which delves into the Herheim production (2008 premier with different cast c Gatti) as well as a swag of links to other reviews. I like the take on the mirror.


Susan Scheid said...

One of the things I found particularly striking in your description is how "all conspire to completely absorb you in, rather than be a spectator of, the action." That is the experience one hopes for on attending any music live, and it's rare indeed to achieve. To experience Parsifal where it is meant to be heard and seen! Parsifal is one of the operas I will attend at the Met this season. Whatever that production is like, of course it can't possibly compare to the experience you've had at Bayreuth, so thank you, especially, for bringing something of the experience to us, and for noting the Arte telecast, too.

wanderer said...

Susan the Met Parsifal cast is fabulous. Kaufmann OMG Kaufmann - he is back in fantastic voice I hear, and Dalayman I've heard as Brunnhilde, and the Russian with the swastika tattoo, and - you get it all. I heard Gatti conduct it in Zurich last year, linked to above now in the blog post addit. I'm becoming a Parsifal nutter.

Do watch the Bayreuth telecast if you can, or get the DVD later. It is magnificent.

Susan Scheid said...

Well, this is pretty exciting, and thank you for the additional link. I have bookmarked to get the DVD when it comes out, as I'd like to watch it on a bit of a bigger screen. I did watch/listen to 30 minutes of the youtube version, and was carried off, even without knowing much about it as yet. I'm probably way off base on this, but I wondered whether Berg got his idea for the end of Wozzeck from the opening of Parsifal.

wanderer said...

Can't contribute there Susan. Lulu is at the boundary of my experience, having only seen it once and then some years ago.

Anonymous said...

Video link and worthwhile link very rewarding. Watched Act I last night though owing to the lateness of the hour needed to foreshorten it a bit in order to get an impression. Didn't at that stage have the benefit of the "worthwhile" explanation.

It is the same design collaboration as Herheim's wonderful Rusalka and can see many similarities in the approach. The wonderful stagecraft and constant tramsformations are totally compelling even if at first one has scarcely the foggiest idea of what they're all about. But how to remember it all and put the pieces back together afterwards?

wanderer said...

Glad you are watching it M. Now you understand why it was all but impossible for me to get much down while flying home the day after, through New York, hectic hectic, and land with the wheels spinning. It was overwhelming, if I haven't already conveyed that.

I've had several emails about his Rusalka (and Boheme) which I'll now seek out.

And meantime, here's the horse's mouth