Parsifal - Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, 6 March 2009
This Parsifal has the distinction of being the worst production ever mounted at the Berlin Staatsoper, according to my local source. At its 2005 premiere, normal etiquette was inverted - there were apparently so many boos that the handful of applauders were shamed into silence.
On this showing, I didn't think it was that bad. Incompetent, yes, idiotic (a la Barrie Kosky), no. It was movie producer Bernd 'Resident Evil' Eichinger's first (and so far only) venture into the world of opera - and who knows how the Beverly Hills-based millionaire got the gig? Predictably, his Wagnervision incorporates extensive use of video back projections - technically beautifully executed (by Möller and Hinrichs aka fettFilm). The stage is uncluttered, there's no extraneous detail. So far so good.
It's the content that's the problem. A spinning Earth is projected over the first scene, where the squires are hydrocephalic aliens, the main characters your regular medieval types. Then the grail knights appear as ancient Egyptians (possibly - my history's not that good) in a shattered temple. Klingsor's garden is a bare stage, but a window later reveals a sub-aquatic vista - have we dropped beneath the sea?
The last act opens in a 1940's New York park (hyper-realistic, mums with prams, etc) - but then the knights reappear as a Mad Max biker gang on a climbing frame. Evidently time travel is indicated - but why? And why stop at those specific points?
When the bleeding corpse of the very realistic swan he has just shot is presented to Parsifal, he understands the consequences of his actions, that he has taken a life, in a way that no limp hanky or ceramic bird (just a couple of the other productions I've seen) could ever achieve.
And the image of the swan's death-wound is echoed in the posture and flowing white robes of Amfortas. The grail ceremony begins with his heart - rendered in gruesomely accurate form - which he tugs out for communion-style distribution amongst the knights. The connection with Christian ritual is made explicit. Kundry's transformations are simply but effectively indicated with costume changes. It's just the bits in between that are the problem......
It was certainly baffling, but rarely irritating (though the delicious and deceptively alcoholic himbeer bowle I enjoyed at each interval may have affected my twerp-tolerance), and if there were any boos for the production this time round, I didn't hear them.
The only boos (and there weren't many) were directed at Plácido Domingo, possibly here to compensate for pulling out of a couple of earlier stagings. He looked totally unrehearsed, needed a prompter throughout the second act, and missed, cracked or whispered every highish note. And, even with bad light and squinting, there's no way he could pass for a day under 60. But - but - close your eyes - and the voice (or most of it) is still there, burnished and ardent. And the presence is undeniable. The third act, where in this production Parsifal is older as well as wiser, showed him at close to his best though. Despite all his faults, it was an impressive showing.
Waltraud Meier's Kundry, horridly curdled top aside, was unassailable. Her face, strangely inexpressive in recent months, seems to have relaxed and regained its life along with its wrinkles. An all round lack of direction/rehearsal enabled her to craft the part around her own skills. This incoherent production became Kundry's opera by default.
With Rene Pape suffering from some unspecified long-term ailment, Matti Salminen was drafted in at short notice to play Gurnemanz. Wearing his years even better than Domingo, he provided an authoritative anchor, sage and stately. Even if his singing is not the smoothest or loveliest, that's hardly a big drawback in this part.
The standout performance came from an unexpected source. Hanno Müller-Brachmann has an unusually light and lyrical voice for Amfortas, but the flexibility and the range of colour made his physical and spiritual torment devastatingly real and his vulnerability desperately touching.
And of course Daniel Barenboim was reliably unreliable, his graveyard-pace Vorspiel no clue to the abrupt and idiosyncratic tempo shifts he was to apply later on. But somehow it flexed and breathed organically, even if the gear changes were a little too obvious in places. The Berlin Staatskapelle played marvellously for him, and the translucency of sound, the sheer detail, were just astonishing. I look forward to their joint visit to the Royal Festival Hall at the end of the year.
more curtain call photos over teh page..................