Roland Aeschlimann’s production is a mystical mishmash of colour symbolism and Christian, Buddhist and Pagan imagery which doesn’t tell us what to think but is too much of a jumble to stimulate reflection.
The set is pared down to a collection of abstract shapes: Venetian blinds in the background for Monsalvat, a suspended disc for the Grail hall which doubles up as the backdrop for Klingsor’s castle in Act II, and rows of painted Buddha figures for Kundry to unwrap in Act III. A register of the Grail knights is printed on the raked stage apron, but apart from Kundry briefly trying to scrub off the name of Amfortas it plays no part in the action.
Parsifal’s entrance and scolding got things moving after a static start to Act I, but the Personenregie could have gone much further and still not have strayed far beyond the letter of the text. In Scene II the Grail Knights enter cloaked in vast tubes and leave us with no doubt as to how rigidly they are set in their ways when they park them on the stage with thudding firmness. An alphabet soup graphic is projected onto the suspended disc, which shifts when Amfortas raises a mirror, revealing a Stargate portal with something indistinct glittering at its finite point. Adding to the puzzling accumulation of all things symbolically loaded is that the mirror projects an image of the Turin Shroud.
Musically things were excellent (who knew Ulf Schirmer had it in him?), so do click through to Bachtrack to read the rest. The production wasn’t all that bad and I thought the ending was strong, but the Konzept was lacking in what one might describe in German as ‘klare Vorstellungen’ (which absolutely doesn’t mean spelling things out, far from it). The entire opera also took place behind a full-stage scrim, which soon got annoying as Aeschlimann’s use of colour isn’t that sophisticated and the stage is so dimly lit it was less like watching a live show than something which transferred poorly to video sometime around the mid-1970s.
Image credit Andreas Birkigt