Wagner’s «sacred drama festival» in the staging by Tiezzi and Paolini
Bertrand de Billy makes his debut at the Regio
Teatro Regio, Wednesday 26 January 2011 at 6 pm
The new year begins with Parsifal by Richard Wagner in the staging by Tuscan director Federico Tiezzi, with performances starting on Wednesday 26 January at 6 pm. Sets are by Giulio Paolini, painter, sculptor and acclaimed creator of conceptual art, to whom the Regio pays homage by bringing to Torino one of his most important stagings. The Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio will be led by Parisian conductor Bertrand de Billy, currently Principal Conductor of the Vienna Radio Orchestra, in his debut at the Regio; the choruses (including the Children’s Chorus of the Teatro Regio and the “Giuseppe Verdi” Conservatory) will be directed by Claudio Fenoglio.
Featured in Wagner’s last work is a magnificent sextet of specialists: in the title role, British tenor Christopher Ventris, a well-known interpreter of Parsifal, which he performed at Bayreuth for three consecutive years beginning in 2008. Christine Goerke, dramatic soprano of great versatility from New York, will bring to life and penetrate the complex femininity of Kundry; another voice often heard at Bayreuth is Korean bass Kwangchul Youn, who will sing Gurnemanz, the oldest of the knights of Monsalvat. Amfortas will have the voice of German baritone Jochen Schmeckenbecher, counter-balanced by bass Mark S. Doss – unforgettable as Balstrode in last season’s Peter Grimes – as the evil Klingsor. Kurt Rydl is Titurel, Amfortas’s father.
The «sacred drama festival» (Bühnen Weihfestspiele), as defined by Wagner himself, has a genesis that lasted thirty-seven years, beginning in 1845 in Marienbad with the Leipzig composer’s exposure to Parzifal, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s poem, during the composing of Lohengrin; however, it was only in 1857 in Zurich – on Good Friday, if we give credence to the composer’s autobiography – that, thanks also to the smells and quiet of early spring, he remembered the story, forgotten for years, and Parsifal began to take form. The first draft dates to 1865, but the final version was published only in 1877; as for the score, it was completed in 1882. It had its debut at the Bayreuth Festspiele on 26 July of the same year under the direction of Hermann Levi, whom Wagner substituted during the last performance in order to conduct the last act himself: a farewell to his art and his world. He died the following year.
As Debussy wrote: «…Parsifal is one of the most beautiful monuments of sound ever erected to the unperturbed glory of music», and represents, with its wealth of symbols and its combination of philosophic, literary and religious elements, a milestone of nineteenth-century music. The philosophy of Buddha, which Wagner discovered on the wave of interest in the philosophy of Schopenhauer, is strong in Parsifal; Parsifal’s painful course is that of Humanity towards perfection, redemption attained through pain and its release through the renunciation of desire. The story, explains Federico Tiezzi, «is a course of the spirit which I have chosen to reproduce as subjective, through the eyes of the protagonist». Amfortas, Titurel’s son, guardian of the spear of Longinus and the Grail – the holy chalice used by Jesus in the last supper (and in which, after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood) – was unable to resist the allure of the splendid Kundry and was wounded by the sorcerer Klingsor. Despite many attempts, his wound didn’t heal; it «…provoked not physical, but existential pain» explains Tiezzi. «Without a wound, however, there would be no healing; Parsifal and his gift of salvation through knowledge is a metaphor for art that redeems». From this the use of colour, or its absence, with the first act thus «immersed in black, or rather the blind darkness of the yet unknowing mind; the second act plays out in the undefined colour of purgatorial passage; the last is white, like conscience illuminated by understanding». In the second act, Klingsor presses Kundry to seduce Parsifal, but the boy, just when he is about to yield to temptation, understands the meaning of pain and Amfortas’s wound, and rejects the woman; Longinus’s spear, hurled by Klingsor at Parsifal, stops in mid-air, the young man grasps it and the nightmare dissolves. This, then, is the magic of Good Friday: nature is once more resplendent; Kundry, Magdalene in the gospel, washes Parsifal’s feet and dries them with her hair; at the Grail ceremony, Parsifal touches Amfortas’s wound with the spear and it miraculously heals. «The Grail is knowledge» Tiezzi annotates.
Giulio Paolini depicts the Grail with a ray of light that crosses the stage, «almost as though Time could replace the blood of Christ»; the whole opera is set in an ideal space, a «Museum of spiritual sciences» explains Paolini, «where finds handed down by history appear accurately and respectfully preserved, but are made unrecognizable by Time. Even Parsifal splits (appearing as the statue of Hermes by Prassitele): body and soul, topicality and classical timelessness, the merging of time and space» as is well-explained by the phrase that Gurnemanz addresses to Parsifal in the first act: «you see, my son, here time becomes space». This is the predominant idea behind Wagner’s story.
The staging, realized in 2007 for the Teatro San Carlo of Naples, makes use of costumes by Giovanna Buzzi and lights by Luigi Saccomandi.
During the course of the eight performances, from 26 January to 6 February, alternating in the title roles will be: Jason Collins (Parsifal), Heidi Brunner (Kundry), Kay Stiefermann (Amfortas), Kurt Rydl (Gurnemanz) and Arutjun Kotchinian (Titurel).