Parsifal, Staatsoper Berlin, Festtage, Schiller Theater, April 2017

This year’s Festival opened with a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic under Barenboim: Mozart’s Haffner and Jupiter symphonies were given powerful lyricism, and Schönberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 wonderful chromatic pulsation.

Parsifal and Flower Maidens, all images Staatsoper Berlin

To follow this, Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle fully brought out the emotional depths of Wagner’s Parsifal in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s intriguing production from the 2015 Festival. This features a deeply disturbing representation of Act II with Klingsor as a nervous Josef Fritzl-like character who keeps his family of girls (some as young as five or six) confined from the world, until Parsifal rappels down a rope into this strange homestead before killing him with the spear. Klingsor’s magic is nothing but power over his trapped daughters, and although Kundry’s involvement in this macabre household is not clearly defined, her carnal embrace of Amfortas towards the end of Act III is unmistakeable, causing the kindly old Gurnemanz to stab her, just as Parsifal stabbed Klingsor. Such is the end of a perverted world that fatally wounded Amfortas, leaving his father Titurel in the dual state of being both dead and alive, like Schrödinger’s Cat. The destruction of the ‘Fritzl household’ in Act II ended that Act I duality, as Amfortas sees on ripping open the coffin in Act III to reveal Titurel’s dead body.

Parsifal kills Klingsor

Yet if Klingsor is no thaumaturge in Act II, Kundry conjures up a vision of Parsifal’s mother, showing a maternal dominance from which the boy once escaped to redeem both himself and a king fatally wounded by feminine power and mystique. By finding his own road, Parsifal has opened the gate to Amfortas, while Gurnemanz’s murder of Kundry releases the one obstruction that stops him from passing on.

René Pape showed an extraordinary depth of humanity as Gurnemanz, his riveting Act I monologue complemented by a slide show of the events he unfolds for the attentive on-stage listeners. This was a performance of enormous power, but so indeed were the agonised Amfortas of Lauri Vasar, and the boldly heroic tenor of Andreas Schager as Parsifal. In the role of this production’s semi-demented Klingsor, Tómas Tómasson showed frantic energy combined with nervous childishness and a hint of subdued violence. Quite different from the mellifluous mezzo of Anna Larsson as a Kundry without whom his fantasy world would not exist.

Before the final redemption

Magnificent choral singing from the Grail followers, and the orchestra under Barenboim’s direction swept us from moments of tranquillity such as the anointing of Parsifal’s feet and head, to huge drama as he performs his first duty of office in baptising Kundry. Such a moving Parsifal renders the journey from London to Berlin a pilgrimage well worth the effort, to say nothing of the forthcoming Die Frau ohne Schatten — watch this space.

For further information on this year’s Festtage click here.

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