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?

goat snake witch dance theatre blackness

The last couple of days I’ve been working on a side-project, cleaning up my dance/performance/choreography website, I decided a while ago I wanted to move it into WordPress, change the font to Anonymous Pro, and try and make everything I would do by hand-coding possible through the WordPress browser editor.

Success! (Mostly). The design hasn’t changed, except it’s been cleaned up a bit, and a more structured layout used. The video took the longest and was a rather intense learning process, which is going to fall over into some other projects I’m working on at the moment. The words I edited a bit, but mostly left alone. Some time I’ll clean that up also.

As for ‘goat snake witch dance theatre blackness’, I couldn’t decide which word I liked the least and somehow they all sit together quite nicely, like an excess of baroque.


us alone tied

The day before the last performance, we arranged to spend some time on the stage working on some suspensions and taking photos. I’d imagined the stage would be empty as it is at the end of Act III, and open to the auditorium. Just before going through the scene door, I thought, “Oh, it’s going to have Act I here, isn’t it?” And so the void of the space, gold and red of the auditorium was replaced by a forest.

We set up on one side, not so much light, but a Can from above giving enough to make it possible. Gala and Dasniya swapped their figures, and first one then the other hoisted themselves onto the single ring.

The complete change in colour and atmosphere was a jump for me, as I’d already imagined much of how I’d photograph with the stage in Act III setup. I wandered around, trying from different views, spending more time where the light was better, sometimes closer, sometimes further. It was nice for all of us to have time to try things, as well as to spend time in the theatre outside the rush of the performance.

These photos have a different feel to what we’ve done so far; perhaps if we’d shown something like this in the first rehearsals, we’d have been hanging in a very different way.

Some technical stuff. I shot in RAW for a change, as the light was very difficult. The amount of detail I got out of the shadows and what seems to be blackness is impressive. Mostly I was shooting on Shutter Priority at 1/10 to 1/15 sec, ISO200 on around f/2. I probably could have gone to ISO400, but find it a bit problematic with chroma noise (even though it’s easy-ish to fix in post). The RAW setting handles noise reduction much better, with hair not suffering from soft mushiness, this is something I need to mess about with. I did some post in Aperture, mostly just colour balancing, as the light tended to give everything a subtle yet eye-watering green cast.