Things are getting curiouser and curiouser at Bayreuth these days. A little over 72 hours after bass-baritone Yevgeny Nikitin
made an exit out of the new production of Der fliegende Holländer
following a revelation that at one point he had a swastika tattooed on his chest, Katharina Wagner
and Eva Wagner-Pasquier
, who have run the festival since the death of their father Wolfgang Wagner
, have announced that the 2016 new production of Parsifal
will be directed by way-out radical German artist Jonathan Meese
. And guess what? Meese loves swastikas! The artist is notorious for using swastikas in his art, as well as other Nazi imagery. Meese's own words reveal his unique relationship to these well-known Nazi symbols:
"They should be what they are, not want we want them to be. That’s
crucial. It’s not about what I want. It’s about what these terms want.
For they want something. Of course a swastika is ideologically loaded,
but that’s not in the thing itself. The swastika will tell us itself
what it wants. We’ve only lost that. We’ve only forgotten that. That
this can also be conceded to these things, to be exactly that, what they
want and not what I want—that’s critical
Even though Meese has had little experience directing an opera, in 2005 he was responsible for a performance art piece using Wagner's complete Parsifal score. This six hour performance took place at Berlin's Staatsoper Unter der Linden
under the baton of Daniel Barenboim
. Here are two picture from that performance.
The news that Meese is coming to Bayreuth immediately brings to mind the 2004 Christoph Schlingensief
notorious production of Parsifal that was consistently booed year after year. Ultimately, that production tried but failed to knock down some of the more conservative walls at the Green Hill. Artistically, it was not strong enough to do that. What it did accomplish was to crack the door open and allow an artist like Meese to sneak in with the hopes that he will subvert the place a few notches more.
Given his track record, there will be a huge outcry when Meese unveils his Bayreuth Parsifal four years from now -- whatever he comes up with. Those conservative walls are still very much there, and I'm convinced that the Bayreuth management is setting the scene for a tremendous right versus left clash. It's what they want because they know it's the thing that makes opera exciting these days.