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Parsifal - Schlingensief´s new staging at the
Richard Wagner Festival Bayreuth (2004 − 2007)

Wagner Festival Bayreuth, Germany by Anna-Catharina Gebbers

In 1965 Joseph Beuys performed How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. In Christoph Schlingensief's production of Parsifal, which opened this year's Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, Beuys' famous version of the Pietà is acted out by Klingsor, the eerie knight in black armour, in the opera's central act: he holds a man-size toy hare (which recalls a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois) and laments.

It's not, however, the only dead hare; one could say that Schlingensief explains pictures to a whole school of them. His Parsifal is baroque, an overflowing ocean of signs and symbols; as Gurnemanz tells his son, ’Time here become space'. The rotating stage is a cyclical metaphor, like Beuys' Honey Pump in the Work Place (1974-7), offering an abundance of meanings in which the spectator can revel without ever gaining the impression of having seen, let alone of having understood, everything. Film material and costumes integrate the prehistory from Wolfram von Eschenbach's medieval epic poem Parzival into Wagner's reworking. Large-formate projections, close-ups of a slowly rotting hare and pulsating maggots bring a contemporary visual idiom into the historic confines of the Festspielhaus. Slogans in the style of Jonathan Meese, such as Zeichen Worte Malen (Signs Words Painting), Kraal (Grail) or Betpunk (Prayer Punk), adorn elements of the stage set, suggesting modes of interpretation.

Picture from Schlingensief´s production of Parsifal (Image: Bayreuth)

With interrupted rehearsals and rumours of legal wrangles over the months before the opera opened, Schlingensief became the focus of an unparalleled media spectacle, a fact reflected in his production. In every scene he plays with the institutional framework that is Bayreuth, celebrating chaos, tormenting the audience with incomprehensibility and then winning it back with skilfully placed key set pieces. The director challenges the audience to a play a game in which the artist refuses to be the one who gives up first, and in so doing has created a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk a popular Parsifal in the best possible sense, capable of bringing together art-lovers, intellectuals, sensation-seekers and loyal Wagnerians. The enigmatic aspect of the Mistery Play is preserved, but each spectator comes away with his or her own particular revelation. In one film scene a black Matthew Barney-like persona is received as a saviour. Like Barney, Schlingensief has found a distinctive vocabulary that puts his stamp on all the elements of Wagner's ’sacred drama'. Not only does this Bayreuth production mark a redeeming, brilliant high point in Schlingensief's directing career; his numerous films, theatre projects and art happenings now fall into place as part of an oeuvre with consistent leitmotiv. As a result, the weary stronghold of the Wagnerian grail has opened up to the future.

Picture from Schlingensief´s production of Parsifal (Image: Bayreuth)

But where was Marcel Duchamp's urinal (Fountain, 1917)? At the première it was missing from the on-stage ’Graveyard of Art', where it was meant to rest in place alongside Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (1503-6), Van Gogh's ’Sunflowers' (1888-9) and Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans (1961-2). Rumour has it that the festival's director, Wolfgang Wagner, himself whisked it away to a safe hiding place before the performance.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Gallery: Parsifal, third Season, August 2006

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