Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Mamarracho:" The Last Word on Schlingensief

Opera houses mounting productions of Richard Wagner's last work, Parsifal, are careful to remind audiences that according to the wishes of the composer there ought to be no applause at the conclusion the work's first act. In reverence to a drama filled with religious overtones and to a performance which hopefully has built a sense of spirituality, Wagner thought that a quiet reverent public was the ideal bunch to come to worship at his church on the Green Hill. Of course, he also did not want his Consecrational Festival Drama to be performed outside of the sacred precincts of Bayreuth either, but after The Metropolitan Opera successfully absconded with the score and performed the work against the wishes of Wagner's widow Cosima, opera houses around the world have tried to atone for their theft and always remind audiences of the Master's last wish for silence and reflection before retiring to the first interval.

Since 2004, the Bayreuth Festspilehaus has experienced all kinds of sounds after the conclusion of the three acts of Parsifal -- mostly it has been people booing. The production by Christoph Schlingensief, now in its fourth and final year, has been received with the most fervent booing and catcalls heard at Bayreuth since the Centennial Patrice Chéreau Ring back in 1976. Katharina Wagner's current Regietheater examination of her great-grandfather's only comedy might just beat out Schlingensief when it comes to audience audible displeasure.

Today, at the conclusion of the first act of Parsifal there definitely was audible displeasure. A single voice -- I had never heard this before at Bayreuth -- yelled out the word Mamarracho! as clear as day. Then some scattered murmuring was heard, followed by a smattering of applause. Obviously it was a Spaniard! The word mamarracho, whose etymology goes back to the Muslim occupation of Spain, is applied to anything which is defective or ridiculous, something which is badly put together and ultimately ends up being imperfect and extravagant (see the picture above of the Flowermaidens of Schlingensief's production).

Then came Act II... and this Spanish guy was ready. No sooner did the curtain go down on Klingsor's Magic Garden, which in this production consists of a Voodoo den complete with fat topless black women (some characters are in black-face!), that this guy yelled out "A la cárcel!" which of course means "To jail!"

And that, my friends, was the last word on Schlingensief!

PS: After the conclusion of the third act, I heard only a solitary whistle, followed by the loudest booing of the evening. Our Spanish friend had either been escorted out of the Festspielhaus, or the sight of a movie playing footage of a decaying rabbit taking the place of the Holy Grail had left him speechless.


Inter said...

I heard the booing during today's performance over the Internet radio (Radio Bartok's transmission today, so the commentary was incomprehensible to me) and have read about the Schlingensief production. I sometimes have the impression that Bayreuth is suffering from Chereau-induced OCD, as though one final acte gratuit of the avant garde will make it all go away. On the other hand I thought the Parsifal was wonderful and the orchestral playing was beyond praise.

Daland said...

Yes, the total inconsistency between the staging and the musical performance is the most appalling trait of Bayreuth's present productions (MS, Ring, Parsifal).

I found Fischer's reading quite remarkable too (while I was rather disturbed by the many "liberties" taken by Thielemann in his however enthralling rendering of the Ring)

Vincent Vargas said...

Thielemann's is one of the most Italianate Rings in recent history. His Wagner is more Italian than most Italian conductors.

Fischer's reading of PARSIFAL was a tad fast. I am not sure who was faster him or Boulez the first and second year of this production. It must be that either Schlingensief likes it fast, or that the conductors can't stand to watch the production for too long.