Response to Pierre Couture’s Review of the Vienna Parsifal

By Frances Henry, Chair, Toronto Wagner Society

Pierre Couture’s title says it all:  A Parsifal for our Times….  But do we want a work of genius like Richard Wagner’s Parsifal presented ‘for our times’ when really  this work was created ‘ for all times’?  The universality of Parsifal in what it says about both human and mystical metaphysical behaviour is one of its most compelling features. along with some of the most gorgeous music ever written.

Pierre has given us a very comprehensive analysis of this production but the conclusion we must draw from it is that the director Serebrennikov has fashioned the work in his own image using his own experiences but set to Wagner’s music. This is, for me a superb example  of narcissism gone to the extreme.   Are we to think that Serebrennikov’s  experience as a modern  creative artist in a repressive and politically corrupt society is what Wagner’s Parsifal is about? What happened to the mysticism with which Wagner surrounds both the text and weaves into the music so glowingly?  Can or should a director take away all these elements in Parsifal -which makes it a work of transcendentalism – and brings it down to the level of one man’s admittedly tragic life’s circumstances? I imagine that he  sees himself and his life in Russia as a symbol   for the millions of the Russian population who live under similar circumstances so he is showing us what life is like in his country and perhaps hoping that his ‘art’ will enlighten the rest of the world about its horrors. Works of art have often enough been used or bastardized as political symbols for repressive regimes.  But should that art itself be so transformed as to make the original statement almost meaningless?  Luckily, the medium of opera contains orchestral and vocal music so that part of the work cannot  be touched.  But this kind of production almost pushes these elements into oblivion and while the audience struggles to understand what is happening on stage, there is nevertheless the joyous beauty of the music.

The irony of this production is that while the stage is beset with almost incomprehensible horrors  and one needs a Pierre Couture to unravel what is going on, the vocal cast  singing its heart out is one of the best ever assembled for this opera!

There are many opinions around artistic production in opera today especially as there is now a recognized school’ called “Regietheatre” or director driven production.  I am certainly not a fan of rigid old fashioned  traditional productions, but I cannot really tolerate ones such as this that fly in the face of all that is and has been meaningful.