Celebrating the Deutsche Oper with a new ′Parsifal′ | Music | DW | 13.11.2012
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Celebrating the Deutsche Oper with a new 'Parsifal'

The young stage director Philipp Stölzl's production of "Parsifal" marks a highlight of the 100th anniversary of Berlin's Deutsche Oper, opened in 1912. DW's Barbara Wiegand reviews the performance.

Philipp Stölzl is a cross-over from the world of film who likes to take an occasional stab at opera - giving audiences hope for new ideas in doing so. His take on "Parsifal" was highly anticipated. Wagner termed it a "Bühnenweihfestspiel," meaning a festival work used to consecrate the stage. "Parsifal" would become the last musical drama he wrote. That may explain the longing for salvation felt in the work along with its many religious undertones and symbols, including crucifixion, baptism, a holy shrine and the sacraments.

Stölzl is quite young, a director not just of films but also of music videos for the likes of Rammstein ("Du Hast," 1997) and Madonna ("American Pie," 2000). But he sticks pretty close to Wagner's cues. Symbol-rich images abound in his rendering of the legendary tale of the Holy Grail and the spear, the searching Parsifal, the suffering Amfortas, the apostate knight Klingsor and the outsider Kundry. Taking its starting point from the medieval grail legends, the story includes theft and and abuse of sacred relics, allegorical wounds and a search for redemption.

Evelyn Herlitizius as Kundry and Bastiaan Everink as Klingsor at the Deutsche Oper production of Parsifal Photo: Ole Spata/dpa

Evelyn Herlitizius as Kundry and Thomas Jesatko as Klingsor

Stölzl's production

One might say the production resembles a "tableau vivant" - living people depicting paintings - that was popular at the end of the 18th century. Stölzl's ensemble freezes amongst rites and relics, against a sometimes biblical, sometimes medieval landscape, in which the crucifixion hill of Golgatha becomes a rocky building site for a knight's castle, or the walls of a temple.

It's exciting at first, especially since Stötzl takes the viewer along on this cautious, protective convergence: along with the eponymous hero, one first looks from afar at a raised landscape and its inhabitants. Parsifal comes from our time, from the darkness of a sober, black backdrop. Wearing a business suit rather than a Templar tunic, he gazes - simultaneously disconcerted and fascinated - at the scenery laden with religious symbolism.

But Stölzl seems to have run out of ideas after that, and some elements appear helplessly kitschy. Such as when Klingsor, rejected by the crusaders, theatrically sinks to the floor, impaled by the Holy Spear Or when Parsifal drags the spear back to its rightful keepers and then solemnly offers them a redemptive christening. It's reminiscent of amateurish passion play, and keeps the viewer wondering where the young director wants to go. Is this an ironic take on "Parsifal?" He doesn't go far enough for that. Does Stölzl take the piece seriously? His presentation lacks the depth for that.

Instead, the director ignores issues that could come up - questions about religious fanaticism, the alienation of everything "other." The staging is ultimately disappointing in this regard.

The singer in the role of Parsifal surrounded by other performers during rehearsals Photo: Ole Spata/dpa

Parsifal is on the search for something...

Wagner's music

The musical execution is anything but disappointing. Particularly impressive are the singers. In the title role, Klaus Florian Vogt sings clearly, powerfully and beautifully. Evelyn Herlitzius gives a fascinating rendition of Kundry, not shying away from hitting some shrill notes. "Ardentty" would be putting it mildly.

The Deutsche Oper's choir also deserves mention - singing at times very quietly from an undefined realm and then rising up powerfully.
Under the baton of Donald Runnicles, the orchestra plays with precision and concentration, without artificial pathos.

It's an evening that's better on the ears than the eyes. In the end, Philipp Stölzl's concept could use some work - perhaps because the solution to this glorious festival work lies in its ending - underscored by music that remains as compelling as ever.

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