The Bayreuth Wagner Festival 2005: Parsifal

Whereas the Greek work of art embraced the spirit of a splendid nation, the work of art of the future is intended to embrace the spirit of free people irrespective of all national boundaries; the national element in it must be no more than an ornament, a charm of individual diversity, not a confining boundary.

Richard Wagner in Die Kunst und die Revolution (Art and Revolution), 1849*

This was my first visit to the Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. I have been applying for tickets for eight years now, and finally succeeded. We actually got very good seats: directly in the last row of the Prince Regent’s balcony (commonly called “Mittelloge”) which is the best place to be from an acoustic and visual standpoint. The whole stage was visible in front of me and looked like a television set.
The opera we saw was Parsifal, which Richard Wagner wrote especially for the Festspielhaus. That is the reason for its subtitle: Bühnenweihspiel, meaning stage-inaugurational play. It was forbidden to perform it elsewhere until in 1913 the copyright expired. Nevertheless, there are only eight productions up to now. The latest production is by Christoph Schlingensief, a German theater producer and self-proclaimed enfant terrible of the performing arts. The production fails to be provocative, as reviewers had already noticed (review from The New Yorker, NY Times review, Musicweb review, a pro-Schlingensief review from his own website, and a blogger’s opinion).
The only really annoying aspect of the production are the video projections which almost always cover the whole stage. The video clips detract the audience’s attention without adding to the atmosphere or the message of the actual performance. It would be best to ignore them, which is hardly possible.
The vocal performance was very good. This came as a surprise, since all Bayreuth experts warned me that this is the festival’s weak point. I cannot say so. However, the best thing about a visit in Bayreuth is the atmosphere of the event: People come from all over the world, but mainly from Germany, the US, France, and the Far East; Wagnerians tend to dress up in strange ways and there’s always lots of applause and booing at the end of the night (at to a lesser extent before intervals). The local beer at the beer garden, simple but nutritious food (German Bratwurst and Bavarian Weißwurst), and booing reminds of Bayreuth being situated in the countryside…

*Original text: Umfasste das griechische Kunstwerk den Geist einer schönen Nation, so soll das Kunstwerk der Zukunft den Geist der freien Menschheit über alle Schranken der Nationalitäten hinaus umfassen; das nationale Wesen in ihm darf nur ein Schmuck, ein Reiz individueller Mannigfaltigkeit, nicht eine hemmende Schranke sein. Printed on the special paper bags of the festival; I have tried to improve the English translation.

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