In Parsifal one can see an opera that shows how rituals, emerged from the need for spiritual guidance and meaning, over time, can turn into dogma and corrupt whatever it is that once was pure and profound. Without the spirit from which rituals have emerged the only things that’s left are empty gestures. Parsifal sketches a world of spiritual decay. A world with Grail knights - paragons of chastity and surpressed instincts – that shows more than a few cracks. There are knights, quite a few, who fall for the temptations of the flower girls Klingsor, a magician with bad intentions (once he wanted to be a grail knight too - he even cut his balls off), has gathered around his castle. There is a king, Amfortas, who succumbed to the temptation of Kundry, and had to live with a wound, inflicted by Klingsor, that just will not heal. Kundry, some character too, taunted Jesus on his cloister to Golgotha and was sentenced to wander the world for eternity. A curse with a misogynist puff; it is her female seduction that make many a Grail knight apostate. Her suffering, and many a vampire story will endorse this, is the curse of the undead. The unability to die and therefore the impossibility to fulfill (and end) physical desires with an inevatible mental decline as a result. Ultimately a pure fool, Parsifal, is needed to jumpstart the whole thing. The hero who heals the wound of Amfortas by using the spear he wins back from Klingsor. He shows the Grail knights (and audiences) a glimpse of a future where the sun might shine. Christian symbolism aside, in all its multi-track interpretations, a recommendation for a faithful life Parsifal certainly is not.
... a spur to leave the protocols of organized religion ...
On stage were crosses. Put together, sloppy and in error, illustrating a society in which the past is supposed to be understood but which ramshackle reproductions reveal that from that past and its original intentions only little knowledge is left (it bears a cynical resemblance, both in intention and outcome, to the failed attempts of American Nazis to draw a correct swastika).
In Parsifal of the Dutch National Opera we are in a dark theater with stage designs of artist Anish Kapoor. Beautiful images with beautiful music, but a challenge to learn something about Parsifal, that the libretto did not tell us, it is not. Mirrors are kind of a Kapoor trademark (it should make him Klingsor's favorite interior designer) and Klingsor's magic mirror truely is magic here. The mirror in the second act, which comes back at the end of the third act as the Grail is revealed, delivers a collection of beautiful tableaux vivants - an invitation to enter the castle of Klingsor and the gardens that surround it. In the gardens there are flower maidens who are dangerously short of temptation. As often with Pierre Audi, the Regie is fairly abstract and rather sexless. Beautiful but a bit detached. Often Audi's productions are open ended. Meaning that they allow the audience space to interpret a piece of itself without distracting scenic images and additional storylines getting in the way of libretto and music. As a consequence of that the seduction in the libretto doesn't take shape on stage. For the temptation Wagner himself fell victim to when he met Carrie Pringle, we're basically left to our own imagination (Carrie Pringle was a flower maiden in Parsifal's premiere in 1882 in Bayreuth, the story goes that she and Wagner had an affair and her coming to Venice to see Wagner was met by Cosima with more than a few objections. In the quarrel that followed between Richard and Cosima, Wagner had a heart attack and died that same evening).
For the lover of Teutonic drama the weekend was best, submerging in a WagnerFest. A weekend that contained Parsifal on Friday and on Saturday a concert performance of Act III of Die Walküre. I was once acquainted with them through Apocalypse Now and Bugs Bunny; Valkyries (women stronger than men, half goddesses, Wotan's illegitimate offspring) which duty it is to deliver fallen warriors at Valhalla. Without helicopter sounds and Elmer Fudd chasing a rabbit - but with Valery Gergiev and the Concertgebouw Orchestra - I did put myself on a lavish Wagner meal in which the end of Die Walküre, after the five-hour Parsifal from a day earlier, served as dessert.
Compared to Parsifal Die Walküre is more accessible. It's one of the doors through which I've stepped into the world of opera and classical music. Genre-transcending I would call it. You don't have to love opera to appreciate it. A bit like you do not have to be a lover of pop music to love Revolver and Sgt. Pepper of The Beatles and that you don't have to be a jazz cat to rank Kind of Blue of Miles Davis amongst your favorite records.
As an opera Parsifal is, compared to Die Walküre, a procession at angels pace. A place where space becomes time and where the daily rhythm is stretched into a long infinite melody that gives the listener moments that are like a concertina book that can be expanded to infinity. That is, together with salvation and compassion of Schopenhauerian cut, a fulfillment of basic human desires. It awards everyone, atheist and churchgoer alike, with a moment on the threshold of eternity.
And so the year ends. A year that, for a large part, seemed to resonate with Götterdämmerung, with redemption and asceticism. Perhaps for the better. If only by the power of illusion, and if only for the duration of an opera we were safeguarded from nihilism and ill fate.
It wasn't until days after attending my second performance that I realised how much the staging of the closing scene contradicted with the music. Where the music promised salvation we saw Grail Knights falling down, like Amfortas did earlier. With a stage full of bodies this was more salvation Jim Jones-style than the Erlösung Wagner granted us. His last opera took Richard Wagner to Montsalvant but this Audi-Kapoor production left us with Jonestown. It was the end of a year. A cruel and hard year it was. And Götterdämmerung insisted on having the last word.