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»The Last Lovers«

Christoph Schlingensief with "Parsifal" bids farewell to Bayreuth (this year) − and absolutely wants to come back. By Frederik Hanssen (Der Tagesspiegel, August 3rd, 2007)

This time, too, a battle in the house is not to be stayed. The booers scream till their chords are sore, the fans clap emphatically, people are standing up everywhere in order to be able to see better the the production teams'sentrance. Christof Schlingensief waves from the stage - and many wave back. In it's fourth year, his "Parsifal" has not become a classic like Patrice Chereau's 1980 "Ring of the Century" which had met the opposition of many an angry conservative Wagnerianer. But the production has almost become a cult, because it has evolved from the desolate vision of the first year to a moving theatre evening . Because Schlingensief wirth a holy solemnity wins over the hearts of the audience.

It is of course true what a sour Spaniard cries out at the end of the second act: "loco!" This is a crazy director - and for that reason the right person for the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. And for "Parsifal", the time and space encompassing world embrace. Schlingensiefg throws overboard the whole of Christian iconography - an yet he couldn't have interpreted the piece more religiously, or mythically, or more all encompassingly. The baroque trompe-l'oeil technique from light designer Voxi Bärenklau that avoids all possibility of rational comprehension, is a true celebration. All has to do with things at an end.

Picture from Schlingensief´s Parsifal stagings 2007 (Image: Bayreuth)

Death is always puzzling, he has a thousand faces -that is exactly what Meika Dresenkamp's video relate. Much is only to be made out fleetingly, because ornaments proliferate, films and photoprojections cover each other up. The multicultural mix of the grail society is barely visible behind a screen/scrim. And so there emerges a magic garden of modern nightmares as they may have been dreamed in refugee camps or favelas (?). "The images will remain", as Scenery Designers Daniel Angermayr and Thomas George have painted in the manner of Jonathan Meese on one of the boarded floors. How true.

In the upcoming three years the Bayreuth Festival will have to make up for a deficit of 1.6 million euros. The government subventions have not been for years corrected to meet the inflation rate, and with a set number of 30 performances per summer bringing in a constant sum of 17 million euros, the economic planning can easily wind up in minus figures.The association of friends of Bayreuth have agreed to cover the deficit sum, and some see in a statement of FDP politician Hans-Joachim Otto a sign that there may be coming up a raising of the subventions: "Culture", said the chairman of the Bundestag's Cultural Committee on a recent visit to Bayreuth, "doesn't only happen in Berlin."

Festival Press spokesman Peter Emmerich refuses all talk of a financial crisis. And head of the clan Wofgang Wagner denies a cultural crisis. Nonetheless Schlingensief's "Parsifal" is being removed from the festival roster after four years - normally productions are held for five- and will be substituted already next summer with a new production with the italkian conductor Daniele Gatti and the Norwegian director Stefan Herheim. If the festival direction hasn't gone too far. Because after all the routiniers, the photorealists, those full of hot air, the experimenters, the entschleuniger or the simple miscastings of the last few years, Herheim is an illusionless analyst, an ambitious, methodical coldhearted dismantler of pieces for whom nothing is holy.

Picture from Schlingensief´s Parsifal stagings 2007 (Image: Bayreuth)

Christof Schlingensief, on the other hand, and his "Parsifal" has last Friday movingly made it clear, is the last big lover on the green hill of Bayreuth since Heiner Müller. An obsessive, who takes seriously the workshop character of the frankian festival, which so often is avowed but so rarely is carried out. That the directors are asked here by every summer revivial to come back and overhaul their interpretation is not for Schlingensief a burden, but rather a real chance- which he uses. In its fourth year his scenic installation had ripened to a psychologically illuminating production, the figures, more assertions than characters, have acquired a human face.The singers live their parts with every thread of their bodies. Alfons Eberz as Parsifal and Jukka Rasilainen as Amfortas dare to cry out in pain, Evelyn Herlitzius sings a practically expressionistic Kundry. Robert Holl exudes mildness and turns Gurnemanz into a Moses figure, as Schlingensief has conjured them. In the orchestra pit, Adam Fischer attests the humanistic message of the festival with a bewitching sound in the orchestra that is reminiscent of the welling up and down of an endless ocean.

"Bayreuth opened enormous possiblilities for me and granted me a control over my self.", sums up Schlingensief his "hill experience" in the "Nordbayerischen Kurier". And naturally , he wants to return, in a few years, when he has learned more. He would like to stage "Tristan". Because he loves the anachronistic festival that is dedicated to the work of a single artist, his soul relative, Wagner. He doesn't take seriously requests to change the rules and on Bayreuth to set up an off festival. "In order to bring young people here, you don't need all this foolishness. You only have to open the doors to Bayreuth. Thatz is like Cape Canaveral."

In Schlingensief's "Parsifal" Karsten Mewes' Klingsor escapes in the end from earthly vale of tears in a rocket. To new deeds, noble hero.

Translated from german by Mark Hirsch

Photo gallery: Parsifal, fourth season, August 2007

Additional information on Schlingensief`s and his Parsifal

- Requiem for Schlingensief's Parsifal - The Wagner Journal, 1, 3, p 85 – 90
- Bye, bye, Bayreuth - Dernieres on the hill: "Tannhäuser" and "Parsifal"
- The Last Lovers - Schlingensiefs "Parsifal" staging bids farewell to Bayreuth
- Parsifal gallery 2007 - Impressions from the 4th and final Parsifal season
- Behind the scenes gallery - Behind the scenes pictures from Parsifal 2007
- Opera Review: Parsifal 2005 - A Personal Experience at the Wagner Festspiele
- Schlingesiefs Parsifal - Anna Catharina Gebbers on Schlingensiefs new staging
- Parsifal gallery 2006 - Impressions from the 3rd Parsifal season in Bayreuth
- Parsifal gallery 2005 - Impressions from the 2nd Parsifal season in Bayreuth
- Parsifal gallery - Exclusive pictures from Schlingensief´s Parsifal production
- Schlingensiefs Parsifal - Anna-Catharina Gebbers on Schlingensiefs staging
- "Totally confusing supposed unambiguities" - by Marion Löhndorf, Kunstforum
- It's not going - biography by the Guggenheim Museum New York (1998)
- Christoph Schlingensief - A biography by Till Briegleb, Goethe Institut
- Schlingensief.com German - Further information is available in german only
Richard Wagner Festival
Bayreuth, 2004 − 2007

Director: Christoph Schlingensief

Conductor: Pierre Boulez; stage design:: Daniel Angermayr, Thomas Goerge; Costume: Tabea Braun; Video: Meika Dresenkamp, Monika Böttcher; Light design: Voxi Bärenklau; Assistance: Carl Hegemann

Cast: Alexander Marco-Buhrmester (Amfortas); Kwangchul Youn (Titurel); Robert Holl (Gurnemanz); Alfons Eberz (Parsifal); John Wegner (Klingsor); Michelle de Young (Kundry);

Premiere: 25.07.2004

Additional information

- Bye, bye, Bayreuth
- The Last Lovers
- Opera Review 2005
- Schlingensiefs Parsifal
   (by A.C. Gebbers)

- Parsifal gallery 2007
- Backstage gallery
- Parsifal gallery 2006
- Parsifal gallery 2005
- Parsifal gallery 2004

External web sites

- Festival homepage