|The education of the pure fool: Parsifal, Act I|
The more I think about Francois Girard's production of Parsifal
, the more I am struck by how thoughtful its engagement with the work is, and how gloriously humane its message. Girard uses the visual language of Christianity and Buddhism without being tied to either, thereby more effectively getting at essential truths without using symbols which might seem exclusive. For this is a production recognizing that the effect of all sin (or evil... but I'll stick with the word of the libretto) is alienation from self, from others, and from the natural world. The eventual atonement and reconciliation are attained through true recognition of others, with agape
love, this force so powerful that it lightens what had been in darkness, unites what was divided, heals what was broken. False dichotomies are broken down, and symbols are used to lead to truths instead of as ends in themselves. It's a beautiful production visually, as well; much was done with the relationship of humankind to nature which I didn't fully take in, but I hope to better this on further attendance. Girard presents the community of knights in the first act as suffering from a dangerous blindness, mirrored in the thick veiling of the women from whom they are divided (lest the audience feel complacent about this, a mirror has melted to a scrim during the overture.) Gurnemanz is the closest to enlightenment, but as we learn in Act III, he's idolized Titurel, not seeing him as "Ein Mensch--wie alle!" His engagement with Kundry, too, is cautious and limited. When the swan, wounded, enters, it is represented by a female dancer, and set down on the women's side of the stage. Gurnemanz can't cross to it, but strokes it tenderly and with pity; the tragedy of its unavailing search is deeply felt, and representative (for Gurnemanz) of all the failed quests of this broken society. Parsifal can't see it as anything but a beast. "Gebrochen das Aug' " doesn't mean anything to him, although he begins to sense that it is important.
The knights are united, it is true, but the cost is too high, not only (but most graphically) seen through Amfortas' suffering. They are too focused on the Grail, although the communal sharing of its blessing (like the passing of the Peace in high church liturgies) is not made a Eucharistic meal. The nourishment is mystical, but the cruelty to Amfortas is nonetheless dangerous. This man's body is broken. Parsifal watches intently, fascinated. But when he approaches the assembly and meets Amfortas' gaze, it is the youth who looks away. The king might have offered him the blessing, but Parsifal can't face Amfortas as an individual, turning away and refusing his office. Gurnemanz's anger is clearly not only for the suffering, but for Parsifal's refusal to engage it. Klingsor's realm (possibly at the base of the cleft in the Act I valley?) is deeply uncanny, a space lost to sun and air. More sinister than this, however, and more unsettling than the lake of blood, is the enslavement of will--not only Kundry's--that has taken place here. The flower maidens face away from us, in formation, deprived of individuality: this is what evil does. This redirection from the focus on temptation as somehow intrinsically feminine/female was much appreciated by me! Parsifal is genuinely bewildered by this perverse society. As these lost souls start touching, then stroking, then grasping at him, it is horrifying as well as suitably sensual. They almost win: they are surrounding him, claiming him, imprisoning him, and he is fatally passive almost until the last minute,when he tears himself free. It is then that Kundry enters. "Parsifal!" This is persuasion: a more subtle but no less dangerous approach to corruption of the will. He comes to her slowly, slowly, tense and preoccupied with what she tells him, but she is able to approach him. This is, however, only the simulacrum of the genuine emotional connection he craves. At first he is passive under her kiss, but then returns it, and then, tightens his grip and embraces her with violence; it is she who tears herself away, not the other way around; it is his violence, not her seduction, which is the horrifying transgression. It is an act of will, not a totemic sign of the cross, which stops Klingsor and the flower maidens. When he addresses Kundry, it is with sudden, overwhelming sweetness. Finally and for the first time he is looking at her as another individual, and he knows she will want to find him.