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Parsifal with Ropes

In Brussels the Théâtre royal de la Monnaie opened a new production of Wagner's Parsifal last month -- the first opera staged by Italian director and artist Romeo Castellucci. This production is apparently connected to Castellucci's trilogy on Dante's Commedia, at the Avignon Festival a couple years ago, with the three acts of Parsifal tracing a similar path from damnation to salvation, from the animal to the conscious mind. The imagery is shocking, including S&M bondage in the scenes with Klingsor, white snakes surrounding Kundry, and "quasi-reptilian" Grail Knights, and Marie-Aude Roux describes it all in her highly critical review for Le Monde (Romeo Castellucci met en scène un "Parsifal" hallucinatoire, February 7), not for the content of the imagery but for the lack of thought given to matching it with either the libretto or music of the opera (my translation):
Certainly, the scenographic work is shocking, but it does not mask a lack of understanding. The director, in effect, has not distorted a Wagnerian masterpiece by diverting it from itself, but by circumventing it, when he is not undertaking the eviction of the music. Thus the off-stage choruses of the first act, which accompany the presentation of the Grail, are reduced to an almost inaudible soundtrack. Farther away still is the stereophonic imprisonment of the seduction song of the Flowermaidens, from one side or the other in the stage-side boxes, while on the stage some inept choreographed rhetoric is played out. The duos, between Kundry and Parsifal, between Parsifal and Gurnemanz, are treated strictly in parallel. [...]

Castellucci has stripped Wagner of his ideological apparatus: Christianity, Buddhism, the pagan legend of the Grail, Schopenhauerian renunciation. He has made the apology of mysticism through emptiness (not a drop of blood in the cup of the Grail) and of the return to order through wandering (Parsifal or the denial of salvation). While doing that, he has put the music under a cover, avoiding any confrontation with the operatic form, its seditious residue, its pomp devouring energy and space. He has made the music into an invisible decoration.
It all sounds like a disastrous waste, considering that Roux praises the conducting of Hartmut Hänchen, as well as an excellent cast led by an "imperial Kundry" from Anna Larsson.

See also the review by George Loomis, Wagner, Sleek but Deep (New York Times, February 8).

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