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»Bye, bye Bayreuth«

Dernieres on the hill: "Tannhäuser" and "Parsifal". By Eleonore Büning (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 3rd, 2007)

The proper rising of the curtain is not the least important part of an expertise work of total theatre. For more than a cenrury, the famous mouse grey "Wagner-curtain" in Bayreuth has always been pulled flowingly to the side and only then flown out. That is what the ritual demands which Christoph Schlingensief has purposely incorporated into his "Parsifal" production. The curtain starts to fold so provocatively slowly, as if the electrical rope pullers refused to cry out "dienen!, dienen! (serve,serve as Kundry says in the third act), but rather "schlafen, schlafem" (sleep, sleep from the first act). In each act this slow motion curtain unveils a new secret: the starry sky, a colourful string of lights around a fair booth, a devout pieta.

For one eternal second these tableaus speak for themselves. Then the happenings precipitate, Schlingensief starts up his multitasking, the muddling confusion of people , animals wonders, with all the doubles, voodoo magic, terrorists, and moat of all the big and small, real and fake, living and dead easter bunnies.. For the fourth and regrettably the last time is the turbeulent rendition of Parsifal to be seen in Bayreuth. There won't even be a filming of the production.

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

Whoever wants to see it, should hurry and immediately rush to the hill with a "looking for tickets" sign. The chances are not bad, important members of the "Friends and Supporters" have conspicuously left Bayreuth the day before this last premiere: they simply don't want to see the "disgrace" any more.

The preceeding "Parsifal" production in Bayreuth was personally Wolfgang Wagner's and it was kept for 12 years. When was ever a "Parsifal" so quickly removed from the programming? The festival's direction haswith this decision finally given in to thew wills of the strictest Wagnerians, which many people hanging out for the battles on the hill see as a sign of weakness in leadership, similar to the confrontation of the festival direction and "friends" concerning the deficit in Bayreuth's financial planning. If the pugnacious old man truly had a grip on the reins,, who knows, if he would have forgone a production like Schlingwensief's "Parsifal that has evidently turned out to be a czlt, for the sake of peace in the castle. Wolfgang Wagner also formerly grew weary of the Chereau "Ring" , also of the Müller "Tristan".

Schlingensief's production is an excellent example of how Bayreuth's festival concept knew how to tame the most brazen troublemakers. He alone among the artists active at this time has carried out the "workshop" idea and from one year to the next changed things, some of them for the better. What sis left over from the initial version, has now clearer contours, is more in focus. At the end of the first act, after the blood victim procession around the unveiling of the grail, the space has been cleared. Booths and tents havew disappeared, the stage is naked. Schlingensief has learned to deal with opera singers. He sets visible lines of argumentation, which mesh with what is heard, makes sure that there is a comprehensible logic of feeling in the staging of people, and mot lerast of all enrapturing pictures.

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

The collective foot-washing is one of these pictures, as is the baptism of Kundry, also the funny/lascivious pushing back and forth of the flower girls by the barbed wire fence. They have just arrived from the African bush and sing magnificently. The beautiful hellish and rosy Kundry alias Evelyn Herlitzius is a glowing intensive performer, only her voice begins to suffer when she pushes too much. Together with both her knights Parsifal (he , also, shouts too much, Alfons Eberz) and Amfortas (even louder: Jukka Rasilainen); she hides herself in the dark woods from the evil Klingsor. He repeatedly chances on the three of them. They flee hand ion hand like Hansel and Gretel.

In Wagner's third act Klingsor doesn't turn up singing at all, his reign of negation has been destroyed. But Schlingensief has managed to create an einsteinian time-and-space continuum.

On the rotating turntable made up of nomad constructions and multifunctional cinema screens, a continuum in which Death, Resurrection and New Birth conincide miraculously. It may be that no "Parsifal" director up till now has come closer to the time/space structure of Wagnerian music. There is no linearity to the story told in this "Parsifal", everything takes place simultaneously. As the language of the orchestra fades in and out, recalls itself, gives premonitions, and transforms, so moves and transforms Schlingensief his figures. They die, the double each other, they reappear. Klingsor - physically well trained bass-baritone Karten Mewes will be remembered for his cirus worthay acrobatic performance- catapults himself with an impressive rocket launch in the second act into the next orbit.

In the end Schlingensieg waved merrily back to the tempest of bravos and boos, his fans exulted and waved back: bye-bye, Bayreuth. This is a feeling that also many older Wagnerians wear on their faces these days. When namely the avante-guard freaks like Schlingensief or Karherina Wagner are not small colored dabs of paint, but rather have the say on the hill, many of them, so they fear, will have to cancel their membership. 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