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  • Theater Becomes a Political Event:"Parsifal as a document from the year 1882"
  • Peter Konwitschny
    Translated by Kathleen Hulley and Malika Maskarinec

For me a staging is comparable with a love affair: when I love a person, there is an intense exchange. And as a result, both sides change. It is similar when I interpret a piece: I touch it, slowly penetrate its structures, its essence, learn to understand, to comprehend it; in doing so I change, and it changes, in that I am reading it—and not a person from fifty years ago who discerned entirely different things about it. At the end of the staging, my image of Parsifal and an image of myself arise.

In Parsifal everything is derived from the first five measures of the prelude. What are the consequences of this? Klingsor and Amfortas have the same musical material. The second act, the world of Klingsor, contains no material that has not already been heard. All the other figures have Kundry's crashing motif, [End Page 360] although we mainly notice it around her. They all stand before the abyss. Through the musical material and its development alone, Wagner already shows us that none of the characters can be demarcated from each other. It is not that the good ones are placed over here and the evil ones over there, or that the sick ones are over here and the healthy ones there, the right and the wrong, the endangered and the safe. It all has to be seen as a whole, and potentially interpreted from this perspective. This culminates in Wagner's concluding phrase: "redemption to the redeemer."

These words speak very directly to me: Wagner formulates a wish, a utopia, that we may be redeemed in the sense that women and men unite again, that all opposites may be combined in their unity. The message for me is that contact should take place. But contact precisely does not take place. Parsifal resists the feminine in accordance with the rules of the knights' order. Yet Wagner cannot have seen this as an ideal—his music speaks of something else: of despair over this. At the work's conclusion, the main theme with which the opera began reappears, but it no longer descends by fifths as in the beginning; rather, it rises to a new central pitch, deprived of its second section. The orchestra plays descending octaves through all the sections. With this, the opposition is lost: the theme has been purified, and, with this purification, life has also disappeared.

This appears relatively simple, conventional. But it is magnificent. It means liberation, relief from a burden, and simultaneously, loss of a utopia, of a hope. Wagner presents us with our limited possibilities. The existential problem remains unsolvable. A good piece of Wagner's autobiography comes into play here. Wagner was seventy, and his life's struggle was not over; he was still not beyond good and evil at least in relation to women. The struggle with desire persisted even during the last hours of his life in Venice. To many this appears absurd and offensive, and for that reason it is repressed. But let us take note of it! For this reason, his last message, articulated in Parsifal, for me reads: Look at me, me the poor sinner, me the despairing man, who loves and needs this other half, and who does not know how he should live thus, in a society hostile to lust and the body. Look at me; redeem me!

I believe that the nineteenth century animated this man, Wagner, in an indescribably intense way; it dominated him. Hence his committed stand against vivisection, militarism, industrialization, environmental destruction—hence his phony revolutionary fervor, as well as his anti-Semitism. And if we say that this work, Parsifal, is entirely about Wagner, we by no means think or mean to imply that it is concerned with this one person alone—Richard Wagner, and no one else. That is precisely the magnificent thing—that is Wagner, figure of the century! My approach is first to feel Wagner, the person, in his music. And the second step is then to see how he speaks for...


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pp. 360-362
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