Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2017Posted on 28 July 2017
In Wagner’s final and most abstract opera, Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s superb production sets the mystical land of the Grail in the Middle East. The exact location appears fleetingly on a map during the Act 1 journey to the Grail ceremony where Gurnemanz explains that space and time become one, which they do at the speed of light, and a video projection shows us moving rapidly beyond earth, sun and solar system, out into deep space before returning to the Christian monastery from whence we came, which looks to be northeast of Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In these troubled times the monastery is a brilliant idea, and at the very start we see refugees asleep on temporary beds in its great hall. This expresses the ecumenical nature of much modern Christianity, a fact celebrated in the final scene of the opera when Jews and Muslims join the monks to celebrate the Grail ceremony on Good Friday.
In the meantime Parsifal, now as a US soldier, finds himself attracted by the Islamic décor of Klingsor’s magic realm where the flower maidens strip from black abayas to Ottoman era seductiveness. Yet despite the gentle wiles of Kundry, Parsifal rejects her as he suddenly recollects the wounding and fall from grace of Amfortas, seen here in imagined verisimilitude. He snaps in two the spear Klingsor once stole from the knights, forming a cross that he carries back to the Land of the Grail in Act 3, while Klingsor’s collection of crucifixes, in a display case high on the back wall, crashes to the ground.
The musical side of this beautiful and well thought out production was as stunning this year as last, not only with the superb Bayreuth chorus but once again Hartmut Haenchen’s wonderful music direction that creates true Wagnerian magic. From the cast of six principals two were new to this production and seemed ideally suited to their roles: Andreas Schager made a marvellously sympathetic Parsifal of great vocal distinction, and Derek Walton a very strong Klingsor of threateningly powerful mien. Last year, Elena Pankratova became the first Russian dramatic soprano ever to perform at Bayreuth, and this year she repeated her glorious interpretation of Kundry. Ryan McKinny too repeated his noble and agonised Amfortas, with Karl-Heinz Lehner strongly convincing as his father Titurel, a real presence rather than a disembodied voice from a state of semi-death. Once again the commanding interpretation of Gurnemanz by Georg Zeppenfeld provided a profound conversational style that carried all before it, as the audience well recognised in their thundering approval at the end.
As my readers know, there are no star ratings on this site, but last year when the production was new my review for the Telegraph gave it five stars, and I have no reason to change that opinion. This was sublime.