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Wieland Wagner's Parsifal Cross

Wieland Wagner's 'Parsifal' Cross, as it appeared in the program for his 1951 production for the Bayreuth Festival

Above: Das Parsifalkreuz: Ein psychologisches Schema, in the Bayreuth Festival Book for 1951, pages 68-9.


open quotes Of Wieland's inaugural productions of the Ring and Parsifal it was, inevitably, his treatment of the latter that was most provocative. No other work had been so closely associated with the Bayreuth tradition. The new staging effected by Tietjen, Roller and Wieland from 1934 had ... provoked furious opposition. The annual Parsifal ritual had come to an abrupt end in 1939 and the work had since been but seldom performed. Wieland told Goléa, It's always a thorn in the flesh of the powers that be -- not just the religious [authorities] but also the Nazis. Hitler had effectively banned Parsifal. A similar mentality prevailed in the GDR after the war. That was why Parsifal was no longer performed there. The time was ripe for a production that would make a decisive break with the past. close quotes
Image: Wieland's first Bayreuth staging of Parsifal

In his innovative staging of Parsifal, Wieland Wagner sustained a mystic spiritual aura in which the architecture of the Grail temple was merely suggested. Rather than marching in procession, the knights emerged from the dark edges of the stage as a suddenly visible ring closing in around the table.

open quotesTrue to his intentions, Wieland approached Parsifal through an analytic scenario which he set out as "Parsifal's Cross: A Psychological Pattern" [see diagram above]. This was a diagram showing how the opera's events moved towards and then away from the peripeteia [turning point] of Kundry's kiss, and were symmetrically related to each other. But what struck most visitors in 1951 was not the psychology of the production but its mystic spiritual aura. In the dim, soft light the eye had to search for the barest intimations of place -- four dull-gold vertical brushstrokes indicating the pillars of the Grail temple, a spider's web tracery for Klingsor's domain -- and for the shadowy forms of the singers. The work had been transformed into a dream play.

In Tradition and Innovation Wieland explained that the staging of Parsifal required mystical expression of a very complex state of the soul, rooted in the unreal, grasped only by intuition, and that this was what he provided. The impact of the production was as well described by its enemies as by its friends: a symphony in gloom, a formless play of patterns and shadows which dispenses with individual dramatic relationships, confines itself exclusively to symbols and thereby becomes wearisome. Those in the other camp, such as Ernest Newman, would not have faulted the description, insisting only that the whole effect was not 'wearisome' but 'magical'. close quotes

[Wagner and the Art of the Theatre, Patrick Carnegy, Yale 2006, page 288.]

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