How to make a spectacle out of Wagner’s last opera Parsifal? There’s the rub. Belgian company La Monnaie called on Italian avant-garde theatre director Romeo Castelluci to lend his vision to this four-hour production.
The result is a Kundry dressed in white anorak and gumboots, lashings of nudity and bondage and an albino python, said by Castelluci to represent Wagner’s music, and whose ‘venom’ might be a cure. (Herpetologist’s note: Pythons are not venomous). There’s also a German shepherd dog which occasionally makes an appearance like Inspector Rex on a case. Also in the mix are 300 extras and explicit scenes in the second act where Klingsor’s castle is a cross between an S&M parlour and a gynaecologist’s consulting room. It all looks like a Pilates class gone horribly wrong.
Castellucci is known for shocking audiences with violence, nudity and, on occasions, steaming piles of excrement. This was his first operatic venture. It’s difficult to imagine how he would follow this up if invited. The cast, orchestra and chorus are all solid if not exceptional. But then it can’t be easy competing with 300 extras, a dog, a snake and topless dancers with white beehive wigs. The liner notes say that an audiovisual version wasn’t originally planned. Perhaps they should have stuck with Plan A. One of the less spectacular offerings for the great man’s bicentenary.