A live white snake, a long look at an actor’s vagina, and lots of Japanese female rope bondage... It’s Parsifal, Jim, but not as we know it.
First-time opera director Romeo Castellucci’s takes an abstract, anti-narrative approach for this 2011 production from La Monnaie in Brussels, and creates various hit and miss tableaux. The image for the appearance of the Grail is a plain white cloth with a single comma on it, and Kundry levitates like a conjuror’s assistant after her kiss. Both are simple, poetically pregnant images which work in harmony with the score. Other visuals provide unintentionally amusing moments: when some wobbly fake foliage slides jerkily across the stage, it looks like comedy camouflage-training from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. Other images are more troubling. Bare-breasted suspended bondage can be justified as a metaphor of entrapment, of course. But funny, isn’t it, how it’s usually women, and not men, who have to get their kit off in productions by ageing male opera directors?
Musically things are much more secure. Conductor Hartmut Haenchen pushes the score much faster than is customary, and provides the dramatic impetus lacking in the staging. Andrew Richards is a superb and tireless Parsifal, and well matched by luscious-voiced Anna Larsson as Kundry. Jan-Hendrik Rootering’s vibrato-heavy Gurnemanz isn’t quite in their league, but Thomas Johannes Mayer (Amfortas) and Tómas Tómasson (Klingsor) are both very impressive.
The liner-note warning that the DVD was made ‘under limited conditions’ and is ‘purely an archive’ should be on the outer cover as a caveat emptor. The first hour of the staging is so dark as to be almost completely obscure on film; much of the rest of the camera-work looks hastily-realised.