The Flemish Opera currently presents in Antwerp Parsifal in the 2013 production by Tatjana Gürbaca with Erin Caves, Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, Stefan Kocan, Christoph Pohl, Kay Stiefermann and Markus Suihkonen
Named “‘Best Wagner’s Anniversary Production” at the London Opera Awards, Tatjana Gürbaca’s Parsifal strikes by its extremely sober set and the lack of overt religious references. At the centre of the set are the men living in two separate worlds, the only connection between them being Kundry, a mysterious and many-sided woman.
At the heart of the Grail
All the action is encompassed by a circular wall, giving the effect of being inside the Sacred Cup containing Christ’s blood, whose flowing on the white and lucid walls appears like a miracle to the men (and women!) who observe it in admiration.
For Amfortas and Kundry, who respectively spread it on the wall in the first and third acts, the red fluid takes on a whole differen connotation, darker, more human, more primitive. Is it the blood of the wounds that slowly kill, or the menstrual blood, symbol of the biological function of the human beings and their carnal instincts?
It is during the prologue of the first act, where we see Amfortas yield to Kundry’s advances that the blood begins to flow, at first slowly, as in a wound that has just opened, under the striking lights of Stefan Bolliger.
Other symbols, simultaneously religious and human, are present on stage, such as the swans/children, whose white clothes underline their purity, or the water that recalls baptismal purification.
Parsifal, “the innocent with a pure heart”, kills the swan by throwing a bucket of blood at the child, who ends up on the floor in a particularly disturbing red bath.
A persuasive and dynamic cast
We again find the children in the choir, whose spatialized chant conveys an aura of spirituality and absolute to the gathering of the Knights of the Grail. The latter also offer a very impressive performance: united, they give voice to Titurel (by Markus Suihkonen hidden behind the stage), or they become a threatening and obtuse crowd (reminding the outrages to Christ), at the expense of Amfortas, who dared to be an individual.
Special acknowledgement to the women of the Koor Opera Vlaanderen who, led by the Flower Girls (the charming Anat Edri, who was recently Yniold in Pélléas et Mélisande always here in Antwerp, Britt Truyts, Lies Vandewege, An De Ridder, Hanne Roos et Zofia Hanna) bring the Spring on stage, invigorating and cheering the gloomy atmosphere of despair and resignation of the second act.
Christoph Pohl‘s Amfortas is both powerful and tragical, and his imperfect humanity arouses compassion. Stefan Kocan‘s Gurnemanz, an evocative thus unreliable narrator stuck in a wheelchair, guides us through the story with his deep, broad voice and beautiful musical phrasing. In the end, he is the only one to have mercy on Kundry and Amfortas, becoming their bond in death.
An unnatural segregation of men and women
In a unit of scenery, the kingdom of Klingsor (by an articulate and troubling Kay Stiefermann) is populated by elderly women dressed for partying, in expectation of their male counterparts.
The two worlds suffer just as much from the separation of men and women, in a chosen or circumstantial chastity, whre Klingsor represents the extreme, fleeing desire by castration.
Seduction is embodied by Kundry, performed by a superb Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, who naturally confronts the wide range of the role and delights us with her velvety voice. She is credible in each Kundry’s facets: wild and masculine in rubber boots, fatal in her white night dress, protective and holy (being both the Virgin Mary expecting Christ and the Holy Grail), and finally a heroine condemned to martyrdom.
At the baton of the symphony orchestra of the Flemish Opera, Cornelius Meister chooses a fast tempo, which in only four hours takes us through this festival play for the consecration of the stage. Its direction is punchy and expressive, never meek or pompous.
Erin Caves‘ Parsifal is also very credible : naïve and despicable at first, determined but full of humanity with Kundry, in pain while carrying the Holy Spear like a heavy cross, then ridiculous at the end, where instead of healing Amfortas with the sacred relic, he inflicts hilm with a second wound, this time lethal.
Under the worshipping gazes of the knights of the Grail, who became grotesque fanatics, Parsifal is dressed in a disportioned armour which makes him look more like a Don Quixote rather than a heroic warrior, while the Man and the Woman become the paschal offering.
By focusing solely on the intangible and by condemning the biological, has the religious community overlooked humanity?