Barry Millington reports on a new ‘Parsifal’ and a revived ‘Tristan’ at Bayreuth
Parsifal. Klaus Florian Vogt (Parsifal), Elena Pankratova (Kundry), Ryan McKinny (Amfortas), Gerd Grochowski (Klingsor), Georg Zeppenfeld (Gurnemanz), Karl-Heinz Lehner (Titurel), Tansel Akzeybek (First Grail Knight), Timo Riihonen (Second Grail Knight), Alexandra Steiner (First Squire), Mareike Morr (Second Squire), Charles Kim (Third Squire), Stefan Heibach (Fourth Squire), Anna Siminska, Katharina Persicke, Mareike Morr, Alexandra Steiner, Bele Kumberger, Ingeborg Gillebo (Flowermaidens), Wiebke Lehmkuhl (A Voice from Above); Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Hartmut Haenchen; Uwe Eric Laufenberg (director), Gisbert Jäkel (designer), Jessica Karge (costumes), Reinhard Traub (lighting), Gérard Naziri (video designer). Bayreuth Festspielhaus, 2 August 2016
Tristan und Isolde. Stephen Gould (Tristan), Petra Lang (Isolde), Iain Paterson (Kurwenal), Claudia Mahnke (Brangäne), Georg Zeppenfeld (King Mark), Raimund Nolte (Melot), Tansel Akzeybek (Young Sailor/Shepherd), Kay Stiefermann (Steersman); Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Christian Thielemann; Katharina Wagner (director), Frank Philipp Schlößmann and Matthias Lippert (designers), Thomas Kaiser (costumes), Reinhard Traub (lighting). Bayreuth Festspielhaus, 1 August 2016
With the Siegfried-Wagner-Allee (the grand avenue leading up to the Festspielhaus) closed to all traffic, multiple bag searches and police security at all entrances, this was a Bayreuth experience like no other. Ill-informed advance reports had suggested that the new production of Parsifal by Uwe Eric Laufenberg was anti-Islam in conception. But with the Munich shooting incident just a few days earlier and terrorist atrocities an ever-present danger, not to mention the presence in the audience of the German Chancellor, the Bayreuth management and police authorities were taking no chances.
Revisiting Katharina Wagner’s production of Tristan und Isolde, now in its second year, I was intrigued to find that while many of my initial impressions – of imaginative and often moving dramaturgy – were reinforced, my reservations about the characterisation of King Mark underwent some modification. In Act II Tristan and Isolde are bundled into a prison or secure institution of some kind where they are under the surveillance of Mark, Melot and followers. The searchlights trained on them do not always correspond to the Day/Night dichotomy of the text and music. Isolde of course cannot put out the light, and although she later tries to, she has to resort to covering herself to escape it. The ‘So starben wir’ section of the love duet is also brightly illuminated, even though Mark and Melot themselves have left by this time. One could argue that the lovers are striking a note of defiance by conducting their liaison in the full glare of searchlights (if not actually daylight), and in the knowledge that they are being watched (as we must assume). But what are we to make of the brutal characterisation of Mark? For much of the Monologue, Georg Zeppenfeld, with a keen edge to his tone as lethal as the knife he wields, is able to convince us that there may be another side to the king that we are not usually aware of. If at the climax of the D major section – ‘die so herrlich hold erhaben’ – what we usually hear as the humanity of the betrayed monarch appears to conflict with the eruption of angry violence shown here, then perhaps an important point is being made. Perhaps Mark is all too capable of the murderous, vengeful instincts that normally accompany sexual betrayal. Brooding on this possibility after the performance, I began to wonder whether perhaps Mark’s more sadistic aspect had actually been played down this time in favour of a more understandable potential for violence.
‘ “Here time becomes space” ’, TWJ, vi/2 (2012), 51–7.