Posts Tagged ‘Burkhard Fritz’

Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2012

31 July, 2012

The present extraordinary Bayreuth production by Stefan Herheim portrays Germany from before the First World War to the aftermath of the Second, with Parsifal representing the true spirit of the country, and Amfortas the one that lost itself in Nazi times.

Parsifal and Gurnemanz, all images Bayreuther Festspiele/ Enrico Nawrath

It all starts during the overture, with Parsifal’s mother Herzeleide close to death. Lying in bed, she reaches out to Parsifal as a boy, finally managing to embrace him before he runs outside with his toy bow and arrow. As the other four people in the room follow him with their gaze, the faith motive rings forth and Herzeleide dies. Later in the overture she returns to life holding a red rose, embraces her son and falls through the bed with him. The bed plays a central role, allowing transformations forwards and backwards through time.

Parsifal and Amfortas

As we move into Act I the boy has returned, and both Gurnemanz and Amfortas, desiring renewal and exoneration from suffering, look penetratingly towards him at significant moments. Amfortas once made the great error of falling prey to Klingsor’s magic, acquiring a wound that will not heal, and that fatal incident was seen in flash-back during the overture when Klingsor himself appeared on a drawbridge wielding his spear, while Amfortas embraces Kundry on the bed and they vanish into the depths.

This production plays with time. In Act I during that wonderful orchestral interlude where Gurnemanz and the youthful Parsifal travel together to the ceremony of the holy grail, we see Herzeleide give birth, with Kundry acting as midwife. The baby is ceremonially taken away by Gurnemanz, Herzeleide becomes transformed into Amfortas, and images of real World War I soldiers appear projected on the backdrop. Their counterparts enter the stage as chorus, swaying gently from side to side in an immensely powerful scene where the German Eagle appears in place of the swan that Parsifal shot. Thus ends Act I after nearly two hours of music and remarkable stage magic.

Kundry and Klingsor behind

Act II starts with wounded soldiers, and ends with Nazi banners, storm troopers, and the appearance of Klingsor on the balcony of Wagner’s Bayreuth house Wahnfried, a design used here as the set for much of the opera. Klingsor, dressed in blond wig, stockings and suspenders, lifts his spear, the lights go out, and Parsifal breaks the spell. In the meantime Kundry has appeared in a red dress, a white dress and finally clothed like Klingsor but with blue wings — a blue angel ready to seduce Parsifal. The Nazi era seduced many, but the spirit of Germany lives on, and in Act III while Gurnemanz stands in military uniform near the devastation of a flattened city, Parsifal returns. The ceremony of the grail is now transferred to the Bundesrat in Bonn, and a huge circular mirror tilted behind the set allows us to see everything from above. Titurel’s coffin is draped with the German flag, and as Parsifal performs the ceremony of the grail the mirror slowly tilts so that we begin to see ourselves, the audience, participating in this huge cleansing and renewal of the German spirit.

Final redemption

Burkhard Fritz sang a strong Parsifal, Susan Maclean likewise as Kundry, and Thomas Jesatko was a sinister Klingsor. Diógenes Randes came over well as the voice of Titurel, the chorus was excellent, and Detlef Roth was a sympathetic Amfortas, hugely powerful in Act I. Kwangchul Youn made a commandingly strong Gurnemanz, portraying the role with fine gravitas, and Philippe Jordan conducted with a sure hand. The whole performance came over with an air of magic, and it is only regrettable that this intriguing production leaves the repertoire at the end of the season.

This year was my second visit to the production — see also my review last year.

Performances continue until August 26 — for details click here.

Meistersinger, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

31 July, 2011

Tickets for Bayreuth are hard to come by, so you know something’s wrong when people are disposing of Meistersinger at half price outside the theatre.

Walther centre, Sachs left, Beckmesser right, all photos Bayreuther Festspiele/ Enrico Nawrath

It’s the production that’s the problem, but even if one likes the idea of Walther being a graffiti artist who exhibits a portfolio of bad Picasso-like paintings to the Masters in Act I and acts like a yobbo, there was still a problem with his singing, and with Sebastian Weigle’s conducting.

The overture was sluggishly played; it lacked spring and coherence, and the prelude to Act III was a bit ragged, lacking the powerful depth it should convey. Only the prelude to Act II gave any sense of what this music can really sound like, but on balance it was a lifeless rendering of Wagner’s wonderful score.

Walther and David in Act I

The singing and performances varied in standard. Georg Zeppenfeld was a superb Pogner, dignified, sympathetic and powerfully voiced. Adrian Eröd sang strongly as Beckmesser, though the production is against him by not allowing him to make an inadvertent fool of himself with the mistaken words of his attempted prize song. On the contrary, he dresses like a goofball in Act III — quite differently from his strait-laced appearance in Acts I and II — and looks terribly pleased with his silly piece of performance art, digging out a naked man from under a pile of sand. Norbert Ernst also sang very strongly as David, but Burkhard Fritz was a disappointing Walther, giving a sad rendering of the prize song and ending with the wrong pitch for Paradies. He also seemed unable to portray the outlandish creativity that Katharina Wagner’s production seems to be laying on this role, and merely degenerated into uncouth boorishness. As Eva and Magdalena, I felt Michaela Kaune and Carola Guber did not rise above the production in their vocal work, though I saw Ms. Kaune in the same role at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, in a Götz Friedrich production, and she came over far better. Fortunately James Rutherford as Hans Sachs helped hold things together, aided by the fact that his representation in this production is relatively standard. After a comparatively quiet start he really came into his own in Act III, singing a fine Wahn monologue and giving a strong performance at the end, even if the lighting, featuring only him and Beckmesser, made him look like a giant sepulchral figure.

Walther and Eva in Act II

When Walther stalked off the stage after winning the prize, Eva followed and we saw neither of them again, so Sachs is left to address the first part of his final monologue Verachtet mir die Meister nicht (Don’t condemn the masters to me) to no one at all. Mind you, in this production Walther doesn’t want to listen to anything, and early in Act III when Walther asks Sachs the difference between a beautiful song and a master song, he takes no notice of the wonderful reply Mein Freund, in holder Jugendzeit . . . (My friend in the sweet time of youth . . .).


Then in the following scene where Beckmesser finds Walther’s wooing song, transcribed by Sachs, and accuses Sachs of trying to woo Eva, he asks Ist das Eure Hand? (Is that your hand?), to which Sachs replies yes. Yet in this production Sachs writes nothing, and what Beckmesser has picked up is a tatty piece of toy stage scenery, sloppily painted by Walther. So it wasn’t Sachs’s hand at all — he’s lying, but what’s the point?

If you try to do clever things like replacing the composition of songs and poetry with performance art, then you’re liable to run into difficulties like this, and Katharina Wagner’s production is rife with them. I saw it two years ago with the same singers for David, Beckmesser, Eva and Magdalena, so I thought I’d close my eyes, but on finding the conducting inadequate I opened them and tried to concentrate on the staging. Next year Meistersinger is not on the programme, and one hopes that when it reappears there will be a new production. I can understand doing strange things with other Wagner operas, and the extraordinary production of Parsifal was intriguing — I want to see it again — but Meistersinger does not lend itself to new concepts in the same way, and it’s time to drop the effort. With a better production the singers and the conductor will surely give stronger performances.