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Wagner without ideology – that actually works!

Blood is a very special juice in Richard Wagner's "Parsifal".

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Wagner without ideology – that actually works!

Blood is a very special juice in Richard Wagner's "Parsifal". Finally, the lifeblood of the Redeemer becomes the invisible manna of an endangered community of knights. Symbolized by the Grail, the chalice of the last supper, in which this blood from the spear wound of the crucifixion was caught. Only a “pure fool” can save the knights.

The master of mysteries, Hermann Nitsch, wanted to use plenty of blood for a “Parsifal” that didn't come about after all. At the New York Metropolitan Opera, film director François Girard had Jonas Kaufmann wade through red sauce and be reflected in it. Even now, blood stains the robes and baggy pants of the Grail community, just as director Michael Thalheimer brings to the almost empty stage at the Grand Théâtre de Génève.

Everything is empty here. A white pedestal rotates on a disk, behind it are two white panels, the crossbars of which form the sign of the cross with the gap between them. Later, rivulets of blood will run down here. Guardian of the Grail Gurnemanz – stained red, on crutches – takes his squires in a relaxed position, the likeable young debutant Tareq Nazmi sings him with a flowing, soft but contoured bass.

The Grail King Amfortas, tormented by his spear wound (severely suffering: Christopher Maltman), drags himself in here heavily. Parsifal, who otherwise only appears much later, had already appeared on the stage from behind during the prelude. In the shape of the athletic Daniel Johansson in long, pearly white underwear.

As always, Thalheimer stages with radical minimalism. It is Thalheimer's second Wagner after the emaciated "Flying Dutchman" without sea and ship for the season opening at the Hamburg State Opera. He is usually able to fill minimalism with tension, especially in the opera. He trusts nothing, and his actually simple approach is just as courageous. Because he tells, strictly and clearly, the story that Wagner came up with for his ominous “Bühnenweihfestspiel”, which tends to be so nebulous; which is not Catholic, but interspersed with Christian elements.

In Geneva, of course, there is no altar and no table for the last love supper, and certainly no chalice. Instead, a circle of light, where once again the fabulous light master Stefan Bolliger conjures up moods. Also no Klingsor castle and no magic garden are necessary.

The second act takes place in the enlarged negative version of the first. A black gap at the back, the side walls rise halfway up, again revealing the sign of the cross, in between the flower girls parade, the six soloists are waiting on the walls, all in white, hunched and crooked, but in the position of an entertainer. A ritual, also the Parsifal come-on.

Apart from the crutches and the absolutely necessary spear, only Kundry's cigarettes are permitted as props, which she smokes first in a black and then in a red tuxedo. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner pulls on it as soberly and yet passionately as she later seduces Parsifal. A hell of a rose of smart, never artificial modernity.

There is also a revolver with which Kundry shoots down Klingsor at the end of the second act, who is presented here as an old rocker and played and sung by Martin Ganter in a wonderfully plastically evil way. And two tin buckets of blood, which she used to write “Knowing through compassion” on the wall in the third one and then wiped it out again. In the end she stands in the dark, just like Gurnemanz and Amfortas.

Who knows how this will turn out? Parsifal, in the third act he is also marked, after battles and adventures that have not been thematized, he has become aware that he can once again entrust the spear to Amfortas, wears a fixed joker-clown grin on his face. At the end, even Wagner's last instrumental transfiguration sounds structurally simple again, without romantic fumato, he wipes off his mask, stumbles, searches with his hands, just stands there waiting. Where will he go now? He waits, just as he spent the first act sitting on the ramp. The light goes out.

"Parsifal" without overwhelming pathos, without towering symbolism, without political updating, without apocalyptic prophecy. Just as a parable with music. Rarely exciting and closed, pit and stage merging into one obvious entity, that's what happens in Geneva. Michael Thalheimer is not smart-ass, but courageous, because he trusts in simplicity without superstructure. And Jonathan Nott in the ditch (apparently) simply but organically fluid only traces this music, which captivates, inspires, but this time not beguiles as opium, but comforts. In addition, an intelligent, fresh ensemble sings the text in an exemplary manner.

It's possible: a miracle of omission, hours of liberated, highly concentrated viewing and listening - of all things with this overloaded opus that thirsts for interpretation.

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