Philipp Stölzl’s production of Parsifal seemed more of a failure during the Deutsche Oper Berlin’s recent revival, which played its final performance Easter Monday. Stölzl, who previous provided the company’s thrilling WWII-themed Rienzi (as well as the Staatsoper’s superlative mise en abyme Holländer) finds no compelling way to critically engage with Wagner’s profound, infuriating and deeply problematic final opus and contents himself with illustrating (in rather tacky fashion) the minutiae of the ridiculous plot (including much of the auxiliary narration).
The set, co-designed by Stölzl and Conrad Moritz Reinhardt, is a desert-like quarry with a miniature Montsalvat in the background that brings to mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail (“It’s only a model”). Barren earth and jagged rocks depicts Golgotha during the prelude, in a tightly choreographed crucifixion scene that, somewhat unnecessarily, illustrated the origins of the grail and the spear. In this manner, Stölzl and his team cast the opera as a fairytale. This is more than simply a missed opportunity. It is irresponsible in a work laden with disturbing and dubious religious and racial messages.
Having said that, you can usually count on the company for assembling a tremendous line-up for this 5.5 hour behemoth. This season’s revival featured Stefan Vinke as a serviceable, yet rarely terribly exciting, Parsifal. Hans-Peter König, who sang a memorable King Philipp here in November, was a hypnotic and sonorous Gurnemanz, even if he occasionally was a touch out of synch with the orchestra pit. Bo Skovhus, a Danish bass, gave the most fully rounded performance as Amfortas, projecting his character’s agony and inner turmoil with fiercely cutting crepuscular tones. And just as last season, Albert Pesendorfer was in fine form as Titurel.
Another holdover from that original cast was Evelyn Herlitzius, again a nearly pitch-perfect Kundry. With her gloriously lush and textured voice, she funneled her character’s grief, seductiveness and defeat. And just as last season, it was only in moments of wild abandon that she became vocally unhinged.
Aside from this, the chorus was less convincing than last season, an effect counterbalanced by the searing musicianship of the DOB players under the focused direction of Axel Kober, who will shortly return to Bayreuth to conduct Tannhauser for a second consecutive season.