Monday, August 17, 2009

Solace to the soul of a nation

Parsifal is the final opera of Richard Wagner. It seems to be a fitting end to the career of a composer who pursued the theme of Erlosung durch Liebe (redemption through love) for life.

It was fitting that my first experience of the Bayreuth festival came to a conclusion on Saturday with the performance of Parsifal, conducted by Daniele Gatti and directed by Stefan Herheim (Bayreuth Festspiele, 15th August 2009).

During the Vorspiel (overture), the stage curtain was already open, and we saw a woman with long blonde hair dressed in white lying on a bed. Apparently she is in death agony. In Sehnsucht (yearning), she calls for her boy child. The boy, not understanding the nature of maternal emotion, refuses to be hugged by her and goes away into the garden with a bough in his hand.

Soon after the boy left, the mother dies. The doctor declares the death, and puts a sheet over her body. They leave the room, and the dead woman sinks into the bed and disappears.

When the boy returns, the room is empty. He looks at the bed where his mother has been lying. Still not comprehending what has been going on, he faces with unconscious misgivings a platform in the front of the stage which turns out to be an alter en effect throughout the performance. He lays bricks there, apparently forming a wall. However, the wall remains incomplete and in translation.

This brief description of what happens, in outline, during the course of the overture would do justice, I think, to the multitudes of possibilities that a stage director can put into a contemporary Wagner performance.

It was a production with a heavy resonance with the sometimes tragic modern history of Germany, with vivid and unforgettable images. The fact that an opera can bring solace to the soul of a nation by facing its history without any self deception is once again a testimony of the forces of a great piece of art.

Image from Parsifal directed by Stefan Herheim from


Petrusa de Koker said...

Thank you for sharing your opera experiences during the Bayreuth Festival. Very interesting. Got me intrigued. Thank you also for sharing the photos. (I've been to Germany on more than one occasion, but never to Bayreuth.)

Ken Mogi said...

Dear, Petrusa.

Thank you for your comment.
It is good to hear from you!
I am sure there are lots of interesting performing arts going on in RSA, too.
Stages are celebrations of human diversity!


(ma)gog said...

I have been living in Germany since 1997, and ever since I have not found a day without a TV documentary on the modern history of Germany surrounding the second World War. The generation born after the War have been brought up never to forget of their nation's tragedy and their deep wound caused by it. I have been impressed with your interpretation of Parsifal in which you related the images appeared on the stage to the tragic modern history of Germany, or Europe, or the World.
Wagner himself had never known the war of this scale in the last century, but what he pursued in his works continues to live and pulls us even today so strongly by giving vivid inspiration to the young producers and performers of his operas.

I am happy that the weather had been very nice during your stay. Although there is a hint of autumn everywhere, it is still beautiful.
Please come back soon.

Utako said...

Welcome home !
This travel to Bayreuth seems to have been calm and fruitful.

Thank you for the thoughtful remark about Parsifal. I could think many things through it, and I'm a bit excited.

The fact that the audience can receive solace to the soul of a nation from an opera including modern history and experience, brings me a new aspect of this festival and Wagner himself.

As I'm so interested in dramas, through a series of articles of the performaces, I can touch something vivid and dynamic.
Thanks again. Your travel is really professional.