Parsifal Bologna ’til the end of the first week

“When do we do a full dress rehearsal again?” “Friday.” “Friday? … What day is it today, then?” “Saturday.” “Saturday? Really?” “Yes!” “Saturday … wow, it feels like Thursday … I think …”

Saturday turned out to be an unexpected long day in the theatre, with a full dress rehearsal of all three acts, despite us only having been on the stage once. In retrospect, it was a little like a dry run for launching a rocket, so everyone backstage (and onstage) could work out what they didn’t know needed to be done a couple of hours prior. We arrived very early and climbed the stairs to the attic studio for our warming up. My half-year of regular yoga and cycling training along with six weeks of boot camp for Parsifal seems to have spontaneously borne fruit, and I now have one or two muscles. Very handy, because for me it’s easier to hang both with and on muscles.

It’s all very familiar. New dancers and contortionists, but also a couple of the original cast; new singers and stage crew also, but also Anna Larsen and Andrew Richards again in the roles of Kundry and Parsifal. And speaking of whom, currently the sidewalls of Act 2, instead of being solid are semi-transparent scrim, so we could see all of what they get up to while de-roping sidestage. I was watching the DVD of the opera a couple of days ago, and Andrew is awfully scary in his anguish after almost following his desire with Kundry, and then Anna, when we were onstage again at the end of the rehearsal and she’s going crazy, it’s absolutely goose bump thrilling; she’s completely hardcore and metal, and this was only a rehearsal.

Us then, getting the wigs pulled back on (quite like scalp bondage), getting almost naked and covered in white body-paint (like skin bondage), and then on with the ropes. In Brussels, we were directly behind the stage, so we could hear where they were up to in the first Act and know where we needed to be. Now we’re upstairs and can’t hear them at all, so by the time our call came we were at least five minutes late. Not that it ultimately mattered; I think the most important part of the run was everyone working out their collective timing, rather than merely getting through everything onstage. In the end we didn’t hang anyway, as we hadn’t rehearsed with the mechanists and techies, so it went pear-shaped.

Which was the task of yesterday morning, Sunday at 11am onstage. We made a very approximate warmup and were there with the stage managers (who are amazing in that calm, efficient and dependable way) and Klingsor to get all the cues sorted out. It’s turned out the video I had filmed of the final dress rehearsal in Brussels (from which things nonetheless were changed) has been essential in getting this back together. Unlike dance, where restaging a piece in the last at least fifteen years has been a process of watching video, in Opera it seems dependant on the written notes in the score, which are open to far more interpretation than a video, especially when passed from person to person, and often miss a substantial number of important details.

Tuesday we’ll try and put all that together, and then sort out the going up and down once airborne, and for me the climbing on the back wall. Today, Monday is a day off and one of those stupid religious holidays where everything is shut, completely negating the point of having a Monday off. After rehearsal yesterday, we (Dasniya, Jorgos, Bonnie, and I) went for gelati, and after a quick stop at home (a mere 7 minutes dawdle from the theatre), Dasniya and I tried to get somewhat lost in the city. It’s not so easy as there is the former city wall as a circumference for any wanderings, but within … now I’ve finished breakfast, I shall be a tourist.


Parsifal Bologna Day 1

Our first day in the theatre today, Teatro Communale di Bologna, which is pretty much at the end of the street we are living on, all of us in the same apartment building. Bologna is covered in communist, anti-fascist (and occasionally, fascist), anti-capitalist graffiti, scrawled over the gently decaying terracotta, ochre, burnt umber façades, and so too is it with the theatre. Inside, I am memorising the path of least resistance for my head; it is not a theatre for tall people.

Today we made some administration stuff, pulled on our old wigs, and got on stage for some setting up of equipment and a first rehearsal with the new Klingsor. Also found our rehearsal room, once again far up the top of the theatre, our dressing room just below, wandered many corridors and stairs finding where everything is, discovered at least three elevators, one of which seems to finish on the roof.


Parsifal DVD

Arrived in the post a couple of days ago, Dasniya and I are will be having an afternoon of this very soon.

Nein! Nein! Nicht die Wunde ist es.

I heard it slightly wrong. Parsifal, struck with awareness of Amfortas and the wound is physically overwrought. “Sie brennt in meinem Herzen!” he says, and then pauses, realises, “No! No! It’s not the wound!”, it is the anguish of love, immoral longing, and it is, I heard him say, “die Pein des Lebens.”

He didn’t quite, of course. Though he might have. I downloaded the a torrent of the film and in the midst of this, became curious about what Parsifal actually says, and even thought perhaps my libretto is a different version, but here Pasifal does say, not “Qual der Liebe!” but “Pein der Liebe!”

It is not the shock of Amfortas – his wound sliced from him, cushioned on black cloth, paraded, and leaking blood like an unholy vagina – that causes him to panic so; rather it’s his sudden violent awakening to suffering. He becomes human as the rest and sees utterly how this weakness, infirmity, poisoned Amfortas, Gurnemanz, and all the Knights, ruined Kundry, Klingsor, and every last person.

Syberberg’s Parsifal rests on this horror-stricken instant, these lines which I heard and did not hear, yet nonetheless it is there.

Roméo Castellucci’s Parsifal was also close during the four hours and fifteen minutes. Partly because this is my first return to Brussels since, also because I watched parts of the second act of the film during rehearsals, noting as well, aspects, stagings, intellectualisms, which came from that into his work. The singular difference though, is Roméo’s Parsifal is that of the titular role, whereas Syberberg’s belongs to Kundry.

I left the theatre exhausted, dry-mouthed, dazed. It is a harrowing four hours without pause, and one of the most transcendent moments of art I’ve ever lived through.

I’ll dispense with some technical notes first. The print was heart-rending. Badly scratched, dirty, especially towards the end of most reels, missing sections, and obviously cut together from more than one copy. Naturally this affected the sound also, at times a mess of noise, at others jumping and skipping, unsyncing itself in jarring cuts, and mostly soft, without detail, and slightly muffled.

It is so distressing that a film of such tremendous power is reduced so, and makes me fear for its future. While DVDs are available from Syberberg’s website, this is in no way comparable to the quality of a film print, especially for a film such as this.

Armin Jordan’s conducting would fit into what I probably erroneously think of as the standard arrangement. Its not quite the dramatic brilliance of Solti, and also I’m spoiled by Hartmut Haenchen, whose ideas on how it should be played to my mind bring forth something unique. I found myself wanting Jordan to go faster in places, to not linger so much, to find a sharper dynamic. Still, it’s beautiful and there is care and attention given throughout.

And this Parsifal is Kundry, as it rightly should be. There are two Kundrys, the voice is Yvonne Minton’s, and who we see perform is Edith Clever. Edith is so convincing I thought she was in fact the singer. She is brilliant. I fell in love with her, completely taken, and it was her performance that left me stripped and emptied.

Three Parsifals. Reiner Goldberg’s voice, first Martin Kutter, then Karin Krick, finally both of them. It was likely this that caused some to walk out during act two.

It begins with photographs under water, dirt-stained and begrimed. The camera circles over, sometimes nearer sometimes pulling away. The Reichstag gutted, the Statue of Liberty toppled and half-buried (I thought, is this from Planet of the Apes?), finding a Swan pierced by an arrow, a fetish object; a prelude, Kundry with a young impetuous boy, playing with his archery set, watched on by child-knights, and on into a puppet world, Bayreuth and the first Parsifal. Wagner is there also, but first we pass again by Kundry, asleep with a book open, an etching of the Knights of the Grail at their round table. She has a crown in her lap. She is in white, inky-blue stars around her waist, or perhaps black holes. Absences.

Behind is Wagner’s visage in profile, a death-mask. Here the action shall take place. Behind that is a dead puppet Wagner and Kundry again, and behind that, draped in a cloth, the world and the world tree – Yggdrasl.

More Wagners. The one pounding his baton into a bleeding ear; the one dressed in women’s pink silk attire, again darkness, this time emerging from a padded smoking jacket, the absent body giving it form, and in the depths, stars and night. A pure geometric solid breaks this. A rhomboid upon which a projection hovers. This all shall return, just as the overture’s leitmotifs are played out.

Even from these few minutes, the bottomless depth of this Parsifal is acute. Back through time and space it goes, trapping as in an autopsy all the parts that make a whole. It is perhaps also a judgement. As Wagner himself turns back towards the Germanic romantic history and its imagined form in millennia prehistory – the well-spring of his opera, Syberberg himself from a hundred years after the prémiere turns those years on Wagner. It is a work of love, yet it is never uncritical.

How do I write about such a piece? How do I remember it? I want to say it was for me as an epiphany. I also want to hold this feeling, to not pass it over for the next stimulation. Perhaps to say it is a meditation, a ritual; to go through those hours.

There are two moments when the theme, what this is about, is impossible to misconstrue. The first where Parsifal falls to Kundry in anguish as she tells of her (his mother’s) broken heart waiting for his return. The second at the end, The two Parsifals, male and female – though both so androgynous – come from within the rent crags of Wagner’s profile, regard each other and embrace. It is love.

It is not the confusion of Wagner’s platonic ideal, with its implicit misogyny and homoeroticism, nor of a christian one, burdened with guilt, obligation, and choking threat of punishment. Whether or not the spear Parsifal(Karin) wields closes the wound is perhaps less important than Kundry then lying beside, her last act one of sacrifice that releases the two Parsifals, closes this existential suffering under which all are enslaved. (The Knights no less for their role in perpetuating it, trapped in an endless deathlessness.)

From this, the two Parsifals freed, are able to meet, to see each other. It would be disingenuous as well as mediocre to read this as simply the reunion of male and female, though what this meeting posits, as well as Syberberg’s intention here is difficult to grasp. Perhaps here, the Buddhism which threads through Wagner’s conception of this opera, and which Syberberg never makes so explicit as he does other themes, comes forth. That Martin Kutter’s Parsifal is a beautiful, long-haired boy, feminine and slender, emotional in thought and expression, and Karin Krick’s is boyish, a Joan of Arc warrior in leather, her face blank of expression and emotions the barest flitting to impassivity, certainly undoes this simplistic reading, as well as any interpretation as Freudian familial drama.

As to why Parsifal changes (after the kiss, after “Wie alles schauert, bebt und zuckt – in sündigem Verlangen!…”) is equally elusive, though the overture hints at some possible readings. Nonetheless, she blames Kundry for this fall from salvation.

And Kundry. In the end, the choir sings, “Höchsten Heiles Wunder! Erlösung dem Erlöser!”, as the Parsifals greet each other, we find her lying, now crowned, next to Amfortas, around which all the Grails as they have been represented are accounted for, the world atop Yggdrasl now open and Theater Bayreuth therein, Wagner also nearby in an open libretto, skeletal corpses of the Knights around. The camera pulls back into darkness, emerges from the eye of the iron skull of a bishop in the same water as the overture, crowned and propped up like a macabre edifice, barring permanently any sentimentalism, romanticism the opera’s resolution so seductively and easily gives, and on out, the theatre coming into focus again, embraced in a glass ball by Kundry. She stares unblinking through the final notes until they pass, her eyes grow heavy. Sleep.

parsifal in film

I arrive in Brussels this morning, curiously with Anuschka sitting next to me the whole way. We stay up the whole night to make Flughaven Schönefeld by 4:30am. I spend morning after coffee with Gala asleep. Lunch. Some writing and making Brussels things. Parsifal. Two films of Parsifal

Syberberg’s film of Parsifal is, I think, one of the most beautiful, intellectual, profound versions of the opera I’ve seen. Not coincidently, I think the same of Castellucci’s, and when I first watched Syberberg’s version, found much of a relatedness between the two.

Saturday in Brussels Gala tells me, the former version is playing at CINEMATEK, such a delight.

And in my mail as I awaken …

Dear artists,

We contact you for a good news : La Monnaie is pleased to announce that the film recording of Parsifal will be presented on large screen in La Chartreuse at Avignon (France) in the frame of Avignon’s Festival 2011 on July 22nd, 2011, in presence of Romeo Castellucci.

The show was recorded during the last performance with 5 cameras and a high quality sound system (the same as the one used for the broadcast on the radio). Christian Longchamp and Sandra Pocceschi, director’s assistant, are now working on the Film Editing.

This is for La Monnaie a great opportunity to present that beautiful work that was Parsifal, in which you were involved with all your talent and which we are very proud of.

In addition, we are glad to announce that there might be as well a broadcast of Parsifal on Mezzo channel (date to be confirmed). We will keep you updated.

With all best wishes,

La Monnaie / De Munt

stuttgart calixto bieito parsifal (+ andrew)

It seems the nature of seeing a performance in another city also involves lengthy missed trains on the return for Dasniya and I. Departing a minute before our arrival (or probably while we were stumbling around Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof looking for the line to Berlin), we decided to jump on one to Frankfurt on the next line over. Opting not to get off at Frankfurt Flughafen, instead waiting 11 minutes to arrive in Frankfurt itself, those minutes passed until we landed in Bonn.

S-Bahn to Köln, another quick change and on to Berlin via Hannover and other interesting places. Only an hour late arriving but the last three nights had been short on sleep, so I proceeded to do just that.

Calixto Bieito is new to me. Andrew Richards told me about him in Brussels and thought I’d love his style of mayhem, and with Andrew being Parsifal in both productions, taking a cheap-ish train to a city I’d never been in for a night of Wagner seemed like a good idea.

Firstly to say that while I made comparisons between the Castellucci and Bieito versions while watching and after, there is also a gulf between them which makes some a matter of aesthetic preference. Nonetheless, even though the two directors are quite distant from each other in both intellectual and aesthetic concerns (as meta-analysis in the role of director as well as in artistic choices within Parsifal), they seem to me to share a commonality I’ll try and elucidate.

The music then. (And the theatre.) I thought the orchestra was smaller than at La Monnaie, though also heard different that it was larger. Stuck in the right crook of the gods for the first act (a not-good location both for acoustics as well as line of sight due to the staging construction), it all felt a little distant. Acts two and three though — we spied a couple of seats, stalls second row far left, empty! (Turns out these were probably the ones reserved for us anyway). A brilliant location, close enough to feel the warmth of the flamethrower!

I can’t compare the conductor here favourably with Hartmut Haenchen. It’s a matter of intensity. Haenchen has spent years immersed in Wagner, his understanding of subtleties is acute, from the phrasing of consonants to the speed in different sections; the build at the beginning of act 2 for example. The audience thought Manfred Honeck did a fine job, but for me I feel a little spoiled after Haenchen.

Two moments underlined this. The first being the shout of the knights at the end of act 3. Heanchen (ok he also had 200 extras adding weight), timed it a little later, just before a melodic change, and also the shout was more of a roar, like the ocean, it had a pronounced, shivering emotion, yet not one specific emotion, somehow this gave a resolution that the roaring in Stuttgart seemed artificial in comparison.

And the ending, “Höchsten Heiles Wunder! Erlösung dem Erlöser!”, the harmonics, this is an earth-shattering moment, it should bring one to tears with its beauty, its finality. But it was lost. Perhaps in part because the knights were all dead, but this still left the female chorus, yet all of this felt truncated and unclear, all the way to the last notes, which sounded unsure and lacking in certainty.

Flamethrowers! I’d seen this in the trailer for Die Singende Stadt and thought, who the fuck would put a flamethrower on stage? and how did he get away with it? Especially with Klingsor wielding it like a two-handed battleaxe. And dirt and grime and mess and blood. And testicles. (I thought they were fake, some kind of horrific goiter swimming in blood, as most of the cast were afflicted with ruinous weeping sores on face and head, but it turns out not.) And smoke too.

It’s not until the end of the third act, where Parsifal, now returned as the redeemer, leads the grail ceremony (which is preceded by slaughtering Titural in an iron bathtub with an axe passed around to each knight for a hack or two), and heals Amfortas’ wound by shoving the spear through his ribs, that the sarcasm and blasphemy of Calixto is made unavoidably clear.

This brings up the question of how Calixto engages with Wagner. Visually, he follows the dramatic path and action of the libretto closely, and in one respect there is nothing especially radical about the staging. There is a grail, a spear, the ceremony in the third act, all as Wagner had written. That they are a gang of LSD-fueled apocalypticarians and Parsifal might have more in common Frank from the Wasp Factory, nonetheless doesn’t alter this.

Under this perhaps, lies Calixto’s engagement with Wagner proper, he of the erotic, almost orgiastic on one side, and the one seeking redemption in a chaste religion on the other. Whereas Roméo regarded Wagner from a specifically intellectual perspective here, engaging with Neitzsche, Calixto seems to do similar but almost loutishly mocking him.

As with Roméo, he celebrates the music, but also as with Roméo is not uncritical of whence it springs.Not bothering with obvious philosophical references, he simply piles religious icons one on top of another, pointing to the confusion within the libretto (and in Wagner by adding his bust to the idols hanging from Parsifal’s gown). It was in the third act this mockery became clear, and perhaps if I’d seen the whole work with this in mind from the beginning, I’d think of it differently.

As it was, until the final act, I found at times an incessant busyness, a lack of pause to think upon what was taking place. Whereas Roméo used the profile of Neitzsche and the snake to pass the first act’s overture, before plunging us into darkness, from which emerged a single source of light, Calixto had the desolate highway overpass seething with action even before the first note.

It’s admittedly a difference of aesthetics, and perhaps if I’d seen only this version I wouldn’t be saying this, but even so, I felt the need for a pause at times from this, which didn’t come. And while Roméo’s performers struggled with doing nothing, and the sloughing off of performance artifice this entails, Calixto’s seemed to at times be unaware that performing chaos and mayhem doesn’t always mean chaos and mayhem. Dasniya here remarked that having dancers involved would have helped in providing a corporeal attitude that wasn’t simply one of performing-anarchy.

Which may sound like I didn’t enjoy it all, or thought it was weak. Not So! I feel very fortunate to have seen two exceptional productions in as many months, either of them alone would have given me an inspiration for theatre I’ve been missing. I think it also would have been a remarkable work to have been involved in, one of those where you come away feeling this is what theatre should be.

And to finish with Andrew. From the asceticism of Roméo to Calixto’s bacchanalia, he really belongs in such theatre as this (even when performing the most miraculous undressing in which he reveals absolutely … nothing!). Besides a voice which can drive a nail into the gods, he is believable — all the more terrifying when his face is awash with a mad smile.

die singende stadt — parsifal and calixto bieito

The last day screening, Dasniya and I climbed the stairs of Hackesche Höfe Kino for 90 more minutes of the inescapable Parsifal. Die Singende Stadt, an un-narrated documentary of the making of an opera, here being in Stuttgart, the opera of course Parsifal, and as far from Roméo Castellucci as possible, the director is Calixto Bieito. Between the two Parsifals is Parsifal, Andrew Richards is this role in both.

Early tomorrow we shall find ourselves south-westwards going, to Stuttgart to see just this. Flamethrowers, apocalypse, suppurating goiters, a very scary Klingsor who beats young boys as angels as swans, the swan Parsifal downs, and of course Parsifal himself. Erlöser?