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 [Photo by Matthias Baus]
25 Jan 2017

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

A review by David Pinedo

Photos by Matthias Baus

 

Donald Runnicles led Parsifal, and Alex Kober took care of Lohengrin. The stagings were not by the same director nor in any way connected. Still, it felt pleasantly familiar to return to DOB with the rich sound of the orchestra and the superior singers musically connecting the connections of Wagner’s father and son mythology. I preferred Holten’s Lohengrin straightforward staging rather than Stölzl’s convoluted, though intellectually stimulating, madness in Parsifal. The shortcomings or excesses on stage barely mattered against the superlative musical experience.

Premiering in 2012, Stölzl’s psychedelic Parsifal trip visualizes in three tableaux vivants the gruesome sides to religion. Far from the healing timelessness usually experienced during Wagner’s last opera, Stölzl’s merging of different narratives with Wagner’s already convoluted mythology made for some tricky confusion.

Was Stölzl trying to approach Wagner’s Parsifal with a tongue-in-cheek angle? Klaus Florian Vogt, dressed like John Travolta in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, seemed to be on a hallucinatory experience through space and time. Kathi Maurer’s anachronistic, yet stylish, black suit made this Parsifal totally out of place in Stölzl’s historical settings.

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In Act I, Parsifal ends up at Jesus’s Crucifixion. At first I thought Kundry might have doubled for Mary Magdalene, but then her laughter confused me. And were the Knights of the Grail here Crusaders?

The dying Amfortas was accompanied by a dimly lit stage. Stumbling on Mount Golgotha as if he jumped out of a time warp, Vogt’s lithe tenor voice brightened up the stage that, together with Ulrich Niepel’s mood altering lighting, effectively purified the gruesome biblical scene. The profoundly impressive Choirs of the DOB closed Act I, and made up for Stölzl’s taxing affairs on stage.

In the Second Act, we move on to Aztec times, where Klingsor appears to be Chief of the tribe. We get another human sacrifice. Here the electrifying Flower Maidens turn out to be cannibals after Parsifal. Kundry with her scream saves Parsifal. He kills Klingsor with the spear. By now I had given up on disentangling Stölzl’s historical superimpositions on Wagner’s cosmos. I let myself just be swept away in Runnicles’s blissful momentum of Wagnerian opium.

In Act III, I think we are in the present. A minescape forms the setting of the baptizing of Kundry; the death of Amfortas by Parsifal; and finally, the worshipping of the new King. For practitioners of intellectual masturbation, a second viewing might be necessary to dissect all the overlapping layers. But the singers were impeccable and nonetheless convinced dramatically in Stölzl’s mindbending adaption.

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Vogt appears late in Act I, which really belonged to Thomas Johannes Meyer’s regally sung Amfortas and Daniela Sindram’s Kundry. But when Vogt appeared he sang with his famous lyricism. His voice melted beautifully into Runnicles’s rich texture. He moved me to tears, basking in the glow of the DOB Orchestra, in his finale song about the spear.

Daniele Sindram dosed Kundry with the perfect amount of frenzy without any overacting. In Act II in her interactions with Parsifal, she moved impressively from the motherly care to the seductive attempts as lover. A commanding presence, Sindram generated captivating chemistry with Vogt.

Andrew Harris’s old Titurel walked with shaky fragility, but he sang with with noble strength. Derek Walton's flamboyant Klingsor brought enough creepy ambiguity for his sexless character. The rest of the supporting cast sang pretty much flawlessly adding to the glorious vocal experience.

The specific religious scenery of Stölzl’s production does undercut Wagner’s already complex mythology. But with first class singers, Stölzl’s changes (to some perhaps heretical) are quickly forgiven. Most of all, the Orchestra of the DOB reflected Principal Conductor Runnicles’s mastery of Wagner’s work.

David Pinedo

Seen October 30, 2016, Deutsche Oper Berlin

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