Thursday, 31 July 2014

Iconoclasm in the Fens (Wagner in Norwich part I: Parsifal)



Parsifal (Theater Freiburg, Theatre Royal Norwich)
It was thrilling news that Theater Freiburg had decided to take two productions to Norwich for summer 2014. Billed as ‘WagnerFest’, ‘Parisfal’ and ‘Tannhauser’ are two stand-alone operas of Wagner’s which certainly justify the pilgrimage to Norwich. An unparalleled concentration of medieval churches and a breath-taking cathedral make for a super trip. 

During the overture of Parsifal, the curtain was brought up, to show two religious ‘paintings’ burn, sending a shiver up my spine, before the curtain thundered down again. Religion had gone. But where were we? The esquires looked like they were accountants at a bowling club. The Flowermaidens, whom I really liked, by dint of pink dresses and fluorescent lighting, might well have worked in a red light district.  Of props, the box containing the grail was a contemporary-style silver box, of the type often used as a make-up case. The dead swan, as invariably seems to be the case, looked slightly silly. The music and singing were excellent, and there was no critique to make of it. Quite how well the staging, comprising series of doors forming a double-tiered two-sided courtyard, worked is less clear. But this is perhaps Wagner’s most difficult opera to stage, and this was a more than decent attempt. 

The religious iconography had been lost, and in its palace disturbing and moving images were projected of various twentieth-century horrors. This essentially worked quite well.

Overall: a largely successful attempt at staging a difficult opera, with wonderful music-making.
As a footnote, it is marvellous to see such cultural imports, especially outside of London. It was disappointing, therefore, in the extreme, that the audience seemed unable to behave: talking, unwrapping sweets, and in one memorable incident a mobile telephone playing an oh-so-amusing chicken ring tone. Its owner refused to retrieve it, until quite the end of its cacophony, before leaving – or perhaps he was chucked. I asked the duty manager why late admissions were tolerated: apparently this is normal practice in Germany.

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