|By Lois Silverstein
Wagner: Parsifal, Bayerische Staatsoper, ab 28. Juni 2018
Bayerische Staatsoper 2017-18 Review: Parsifal
Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape Lead Marvelous Cast In Transcendental Production
Real? Dreamed? Which? In the opening of the
Bayerische Staatsoper Opernfest 2018, we couldn’t tell.
production by Pierre Audi and Georg Baselitz, which featured Jonas Kaufmann,
René Pape, Christian Gerhahar, Nina Stemme, Wolfgang Koch, and conductor
Kirill Petrenko, took us to a world far-beyond the drizzly night outside the
doors, and watched a human and sacred tale that raised similar questions.
Set in a nameless wood, Baselitz and Audi combined the ordinary with the
fantastic to explore them; it is reminiscent of Dante’s “Wood of Error,” and
Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” where exploration and recreation of community
life occurs. Here are trees that turn fuchsia when nature moves from
wasteland blacks, greys, deep browns; bones that shelter; castles that
collapse as evil is overcome. The Knights of the Brotherhood can only
survive when the sins of their leader, Amfortas, are redeemed; and that can
happen only when what was sinful and upside down, was righted. (e.g.
Baselitz painted curtains of upside down figures).
But how? Through
Parsifal, the wise fool, whose innocence transformed the scourged land and
its community into the noble and the light. Costumes by Florence von Gerkan,
Light by Urs Schonebaum, in addition to the set design, created the visuals
for such transformation to occur. In fact, the imaginative creations brought
another dimension to it, e.g., both the Flower Maidens with their body suits
of pastel with sagging breasts, garishly nippled, and protruding bellies,
scored with dark hairs, and the Knights with their lopsided backsides and
thighs, where a swan was a pile of rags instead of feathers, and armor
derived from contemporary video games. It took no conventional method to
accomplish such a goal. The wood was Nowhere, Anywhere, Everywhere; this is
an Everyman drama. When Parsifal wrested the spear from Klingsor, evil fell,
and so did the white-black-tiled “walls” of the castle collapse.
Kirill Petrenko paced the orchestra with grace and apparent ease. Never
flagging in what could become overly brooding and occasionally ponderous;,
Petrenko kept the orchestra moving; he dove right into the textural
densities with finesse, with energy, supporting and guiding with light-like
strokes; he received as many curtain calls as the whole cast, and rightfully
so. The master was the lynch pin from which all the magic evolved.
Needless to say, the singers lit the whole.
Apparent Spontaneity &
Nina Stemme, world-famous Swedish Soprano, sang
Kundry. In Act one, she rolled out from under the cave of bones, offering
her balsam to Gurnemanz. In Act two, she moved from Klingsor’s slave to
sultry seductress, her maneuvering of Parsifal did not become predictable or
contrived. In Act three, when she surrendered, she became soft almost,
benign. She performed with apparent spontaneity, as if effortlessly, her
vocal range wide and broad, her sound sinuous and coaxing, the trajectory of
a wild, mad, guilty being who startled even herself with shrieks and yelled
“Ich lachte, Ich lachte.”
Christian Gerhaher, Amfortas, played the
wounded and guilty leader of the Knights’Brotherhood with fastidious care.
Pain and suffering dominated his movements – slow limping and staggering
throughout, his voice, especially at the outset, introspectively focused. It
didn’t project as far as needed, perhaps, yet it conveyed the depth of his
guilt and pain. When he dramatized the rage at Titurel’s burial, his eyes
glared, his mouth contorted, his arms flailed, his legs relentlessly
staggering, then resulting in his falling on Titurel’s burial mound, he
satisfied for volume as well as for depth.
Pape sang Gurnemanz with rich solemnity, as always. He was ever the guardian
and wise leader never veering from his role as central tale teller and
unifier of the disparate angles of the story. His voice streamed even
through the long narrative of the first Act and the exposition of the last
one, where he thoughtfully accepted his own weaknesses viz – a – viz sending
Parsifal away, and then moved into the compassion with which he brought him
back into the Brotherhood.
But, most notable were his interactions
with Parsifal, the intimacy he brought to their dialogues, the depths of it,
the caring. When Parsifal leaned back into the arms of the embracing
Gurnemanz, we fell back ourselves, cared for; when he covered Parsifal’s
eyes, we too felt protected, It was eloquent.
Then too, in the final
act, when he took his place at the feet of the new leader of the
Brotherhood, we were in the arms of someone with absolute respect and
dignity. That Pape could sing all this let alone with singular beauty, his
voice articulating one fragment of information after another, and never
losing its threads, was thrilling, even as it was long.
Wolfgang Koch, dynamic and witty, appropriately despicable, appeared seated
in front of the curtain the true villain, right before the Flower Maidens
appeared. He proved an apt visual contrast as well as a vocal one to the
harp-like voices about to come.
The Star of the Night
Kaufmann, Parsifal appeared first in simple guise and with aplomb fell
downstage front hugging his prize catch, the swan, worried and protective.
Apart from the few lines he sang in the first act, he still made his
presence felt: he roamed the stage watchfully, behind the knights, from tree
to tree, sideways, forwards, in what was going on with deliberate and
calculated observation. Observer and student he was, leading our attention
to what counted, so we too became wise fools.
By Act two, and his
rendezvous with Kundry, he was perhaps less foolish, but only by degrees.
His “discovery” of the Flower Maidens was an insightful piece of acting:
especially costumed as they were never did he gawk or gape, never touch or
smile. Right under a somewhat neutral surface, he picked and chose each
gesture to suggest feeling. Yes, he spoke of their sweet smell, their
loveliness, but never did he venture beyond the suggestion of desire. Even
with Kundry, he chose to suspend rather than exert strong feeling, playing
naivete on the brink, not without desire. His responses resembled someone
who followed a dance partner rather than taking the leadership role. It was
apt as well as precise. In fact, when he emerged from his “fall” into their
kiss, his “Amfortas, der Wunde” burst with sound and feeling that not only
declared his smoldering feeling, but also showed the shock of awareness and
recognition. His voice rang out clarion, full, resonant, beautiful, and shot
through with intense pain. Would that we could coax such such awareness from
ourselves through our own life trials.
As he proceeded, however, he
did not seem to stay explicitly consistent: will he/won’t he? Kundry too
didn’t know. However, he chose that path, keeping the whole encounter more
real. When in the final Act, he assumed his more sacred role, blessing and
baptizing Kundry, he did so with humility, and without sanctimoniousness.
Was he even singing? It was seamless.
Then too, when they sat on the
floor as a couple, then, when Gurnemanz joined, as three, they became a
family, a holy family, a trinity, foreshadowing what would come in the
finale, part of a community of beings wrapped in a human embrace.
Magical All Around
If Wagner’s “Parsifal” is anything it is a story
of profound self-recognition; the composer completed it after over 40 years
of contemplation and creating his other masterpieces. It was his last
creative work, and a music drama that the Munich production played largely
as he intended, as part sacred pageant. When the final curtain came down, in
fact, it felt wrong to clap. And yet, we did, and stamp, and clap, for more
than 20 plus minutes. The subject resounded: We are who we are and there is
no getting away from it and we must do all we can to live it thoroughly:
Gurnemanz banished the young Parsifal when he knew better; Amfortas “sinned”
when, bound by another code, his senses drove him; Klingsor relished
outright evil rather than subdue it; Parsifal, step by step, shedding like a
snake, the skins of his ignorance and accepted the many dimensions of human
dignity – it was a presentation of self-knowing and the steps toward it.
Every note, every accelerando, every contrapuntal insert, voice, movement,
compelled us to take it to heart. Spectators? Maybe. It would be more
accurate to call us witnesses to our own foibles, faults, fractures. For
some in the audience, the religious declaration of the final lyrics, may
have offset the universality of “Parsifal’s” message; for others, it
affirmed the progression of Christian symbolism and thus satisfied their
affiliations. Whether we liked the white splashed scrim that fell at the
finale, it allowed both a comet-like exit: the universe was now as
harmonious as we hoped it would be, with Wagner’s breathtaking vision to