Paul Heise's review of "Bayreuth as Bardo: Schlingensief's 'Parsifal'," a talk presented by Edward and Paula Bortnichak (Univ. of Pennsylvania) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina:
Paula stated that though Schlingensief's "Parsifal" got a terribly negative reception, Edward and she gave him support. Schlingensief's focus was on the Buddhist influence on Wagner's "Parsifal" via Schopenhauer and various translations of Buddhist and Hindu scriptures [PH: which Wagner choose from the list provided by Schopenhauer himself, if memory serves].
Elements of Buddhism found in "Parsifal" include the emphasis on:
1. Negation of the will [PH: ego]
2. Reincarnation [Samsara, transmigration of souls]
3. Renunciation of the sensual
4. The relativity of time and space
5. Compassion for all the living
Bardo is the transitional zone of heightened awareness, near death. A spiritual trial, to move to a higher plane.
Chakra is the wheel:
The human body is distinguished by different centers of power. This concept influenced Schlingensief.
At the bottom is pure physicality.
The crown chakra is the spirit. Lotus positions.
Sexual and aggressive impulses must be integrated.
The heart = compassion
The throat = truth
The forehead = intelligence and wisdom
The crown = spirituality
Nirvana is the goal of all souls. A complete renunciation of the ego. Karuna is compassion
Transmigration is the work of the soul through time and place
Schlingensief is a social provocateur. His presentation of all the characters in "Parsifal" on the stage dead stems from the Tibetan "Book of the Dead."
The notion of the cosmos as a continuum was expressed by having a hare rotting on the stage.
The Grail was equated with the Earth Goddess.
At this point Edward took over:
The near-death experience is like a transitional zone.
The following were key points of Schlingensief's production:
1. A faithfulness to Wagner's notion of redemption as healing
2. Clarity and simplicity
3. The power of images to affect the audience
The heart chakra is constituted of the emotions and love. Monsalvat is the realm of peaceful deities. All the characters in "Parsifal" are souls of the dead.
Red bouquets represented death, and the unhealing wound. Gurnemanz was Parsifal's Bardo guide.
A. The body is the soul's prison
B. A tribal setting, back to the basics
C. A caged hare represents hope (there is also the procreative power of the hare)
D. Parsifal is on a quest for the souls of his mother and father, to resolve the conflicts of his past life.
E. Kundry is a restless soul, the reincarnation of Parsifal's mother
F. Amfortas is the agitated reincarnate soul of Parsifal's father
The Grail scene is Amfortas's funeral. The knights represent the kinship of the dead through all time and space. But Amfortas does not accept his death.
The Earth Mother is identified with the Grail. It is a sculpture from [... ?] which exudes menstrual blood [PH suspects he missed a portion of the audio so this section has to be checked against it again]
The hero Parsifal's conflict is the Oedipal Complex. The chakras of the pelvis, sexuality, come into play here. Psychoanalytic principles are at work.
Klingsor stands for the wrathful deities who tempt the soul. However, Klingsor is neither good nor evil. He is an alternative Bardo Guide.
The Flower Maidens. Kundry's kiss: incest between mother and son
Parsifal feels self-reproach for his Oedipal sin, as he feels Amfortas's wound as his own: "Die Wunde!"
Kundry's laugh. A Haitian Devil. The Flowermaidens are tribal.
Act III: The highest chakra level. There is a wedding pantomime. An art graveyard. Amfortas finally accepts his death. There is a circling of the Maypole at then end.
Schlingensief saw Bayreuth as a Werkstatte. He provided its first fully Buddhist reading of "Parsifal."
PH: Derrick Everett wrote an essay for the now defunct scholarly periodical "Wagner," originally sponsored by The Wagner Society (London), which, if I recall correctly, was called something like "Parsifal at the Bodhi Tree." This essay examined in some detail the Buddhist elements in Parsifal's trajectory. Of course, it is also the case that Wagner speculated occasionally that early Christianity owed something to Buddhism (I believe one of the Buddhist Emperors of India, Chandragupta, or whoever, sent Buddhist missionaries out west, and some may have reached the eastern Mediterranean; of course this was owing in part to Alexander the Great's conquests, which opened up new channels of influence and trade), and one view of "Parsifal" is that it is Wagner's attempt to synthesize Christianity and Buddhism. This evidently is how Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Schools, viewed it. And of course there is that fairly recent book by Schofield which treats "Parsifal" as the fifth music-drama of the "Ring." There are solid grounds for this thesis, except that, having read a part of Schofield's book, I can't concur with his reading in detail.
PH: We come here again to a perpetual problem in the staging of Wagner. Undoubtedly the embedding of unusual and striking images in conjunction with key musico-dramatic moments in Wagner's music-dramas may sometimes work, sometimes very effectively, on some levels, but the problem is that injecting into Wagner's subtle and finely made librettos elements which, though they may have been part of Wagner's own back-story for his inspiration, Wagner either never consciously conceived, or if he did, chose for whatever reason not to present in his own staging, risks throwing the entire production off kilter. I've said it before and I'll continue to say it: it's best to leave this sort of editorial intrusion to the written essay, about Wagner's works, as I have done in my "The Wound That Will Never Heal," rather than to attempt to import them in a flagrant manner right into a live production. I would never dream, for instance, of countenancing or supporting a Heisean production of the "Ring." I would be glad to act as a consultant for any production in order to advise on how best to insure that the producer-director doesn't interfere with Wagner's dreamlike structure, but I would never support importing into any production of Wagner's works any elements not already written into the libretto and score by Wagner himself. Of course, Wagner leaves very wide scope indeed for all kinds of inventive staging which does not attempt to alter his fundamentals.
PH: Readers of my essay on Feuerbach's influence on Wagner's libretto for "Parsifal" [see www.wagnersocietyflorida.org, then click on "Resources," and then click on "Texts on Wagner"] will see that I interpret Parsifal's compassion for Amfortas in a seemingly idiosyncratic way. In my reading, Parsifal as the archetypal modern artist, i.e., as Wagner himself, suddenly wakes up to the fact that it is he and his spiritual ancestors (in whom he is figuratively reborn), the great religious seers and unconsciously inspired artists of the past, who have perpetuated, unwittingly and unconsciously (this explains his amnesia), over the millenia, the illusion that mankind has some transcendent value and spiritual significance, when in fact man is merely a product of Mother Nature. It is this adherence to a consoling illusion which once temporarily healed man's inherently unhealing wound, i.e., the wound caused by man's false assumption that he has transcendent value and is not a mere animal who talks. But now, in modern times, as man has historically accumulated a great hoard of knowledge of himself and his world, this temporary impression of healing is no longer viable (thus Amfortas's wound is reopnened by his very efforts to heal it, in religion and art, and the Grail, which represents man's longing for transcendent value, is the ultimate cause of this wound). Klingsor's magic garden represents Wagner's now negative reaction to his own formerly unwitting involvement in the religious crime of denying and therefore killing his mother, Mother Nature, by first unconsciously inventing the transcendent gods who deny the truth of mother nature's transitoriness, and then perpetuating this myth through feeling, in the arts, when religious faith as thinking could no longer be sustained in the face of man's ever increasing hoard of knowledge. Thus, Parsifal's compassion for Amfortas, who represents the body of the faithful and the audience for inspired art, stems from his wish to no longer be implicated of the sin of uniting with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Kundry, to perpetuate this false concept of redemption. Thus, Parsifal rejects Kundry's offer of love and restores Mother Nature to her rights instead. Having renounced the illusion of transcendence and spirituality, no longer serving the alleged mystery of the Grail, Amfortas is healed by accepting the real world, as it is.
PH: However, I have not yet experienced Schlingensief's staging first hand so I can only comment on what the Bortnichaks have presented to us second hand.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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