Friday 25 April 2014

Parsifal, Deutsche Oper, 21 April 2014

Deutsche Oper, Berlin

Amfortas – Bo Skovhus
Titurel – Tobias Kehrer
Gurnemanz – Hans-Peter König
Parsifal – Stefan Vinke
Kundry – Evelyn Herlitzius
Klingsor – Bastiaan Everink
Knights of the Grail – Burkhard Ulrich, Andrew Harris
Esquires – Siobhan Stagg, Christine Sidak, Paul Kaufmann, Alvaro Zambrano
Flowermaidens – Siobhan Stagg, Martina Welschenbach, Katarina Bradic, Elena Tsallagova, Christina Sidak, Dana Beth Miller
Voice from Above – Dana Beth Miller

Philipp Stölzl (director)
Mara Kurotschka (co-director)
Conrad Moritz Reinhardt, Philipp Stölzl (set designs)
Kathi Maurer (costumes)
Günther Kittler (video)
Ulrich Niepel (lighting)

 Chorus, Men of the Extra Chorus, and Children’s Chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin (chorus masters: William Spaulding, Christian Lindhorst)
Opera-ballet and Statisterie of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, Axel Kober (conductor)

Philipp Stölzl’s Deutsche Oper production of Parsifal replaced Gotz Friedrich’s offering from 1998 last season; I was able, in a feat of Wagnerian dedication unusual even for me, to see it revived just three days after Leipzig’s Good Friday staging of the Bühnenweihfestspiel. The opening might have made still stronger an impression on Good Friday: a depiction of what might be considered the work’s foundational myth, the Crucifixion, as the first-act Prelude offered musical and philosophical explanation as to why it might have been necessary – or, alternatively, why, in Michael Tanner’s analysis, following that of Robert Raphael, it might be necessary to stop Christ ascending the Cross. In a sense, Stölzl concurs; in a sense he does not. It might be necessary, but in the sorry consequences lain out, there is no chance of accomplishing such a need, whether symbolised by Parsifal or otherwise. What we see is one of the most accomplished and indeed extreme stagings I have yet witnessed from a school which, doubtless partially but not entirely unreasonably, understands Monsalvat as a religious community that has gone horribly, in this case irredeemably, wrong. In this Hell-on-Earth – is Hell not where Christ Himself sojourned before rising on Easter morning? – of religious fanaticism, lascivious, Opus Dei-tinged relish is taken in self-chastisement prior to continual re-enactment of deicide. Unable to look beyond the tableaux vivants which just about keep the community alive, its members re-present kitsch, yes, but deadly kitsch. Carl Dahlhaus's observation regarding the action's characterisation by 'inclination towards ritual and tableau' reveals, perhaps obsessively but certainly with conviction, a darker side indeed.

Stölzl’s creation is not merely anti-Christian, more anti-religious, perhaps with respect both to organised religion and to transcendence. The Flowermaidens are initially more geological than blooming, seemingly hewn from the rock of Klingsor’s Tora Bora-like lair, before their brief moment of colour. Likewise, Kundry’s burqa-clad appearance – interestingly, quite unsensationalised – makes its point before her unveiling. All the while, the second act proceedings, perhaps an Orientalist ‘other’ to the sick ritualism of Monsalvat, are haunted by the sacrifice of a comely knight who has, perhaps tired of his moribund community, repeated Amfortas’s temptation and fall. Even when the would-be Crusader Parsifal is acclaimed, Resurrection never comes. At the moment of what would be healing, Amfortas impales himself upon the proffered spear: a way out, perhaps, but not that envisaged either by the Church or by Wagner. Perhaps Stölzl heeds John Deathridge’s warning of resolution in 'high-minded kitsch'. It is not how we should always wish to experience the work, and the redemption of redemption, above all in music, achieved by, Stefan Herheim is unavailable in a staging that pursues one concept single-mindedly rather than having them dialectically interact as Wagner himself did. There is room for both.

Axel Kober led the fine Deutsche Oper Orchestra, which put not a foot wrong, in an honest, sensitive account, which, if it neither scaled the Boulezian dramatic heights nor plumbed the Gattian religious depths, told Wagner’s musical story well. Stefan Vinke’s proved untiring in the title role, though there were times when his vocal stridency proved a little too much. If the Knights had compared his tone with the warmth and humanity of Hans-Peter König’s Gurnemanz, they might have decided to enthrone the latter instead. Evelyn Herlitzius offered a duly committed performance as Kundry; her vocal wildness might have benefited from taming earlier in the second act, for there were undeniable passages of questionable intonation, but her wounded-animal reaction to Parsifal’s rejection offered a great musico-dramatic experience. Bo Skovhus’s detailed attention towards music, words, gesture, and their interaction was highly to be commended as Amfortas. Moreover, Tobias Kehrer made more of a mark than many as a deep-voiced Titurel. Knights, esquires, and Flowermaidens were of a consistently high standard, a credit to the company as a whole, likewise the truly excellent singing from William Spaulding’s chorus, its movement blocked with equal excellence. This was a Parsifal demanding both to be seen and to be heard.