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Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Night of the Holy Bail

Andris Nelsons is out of Bayreuth's new Parsifal.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Andris Nelsons at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Photo © 2016 the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
According to reports published today by The New York Times and the Boston Globe, Andris Nelsons, the fiery Latvian conductor who is the still-new music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra has exited from his commitment to open the 2016 Bayreuth Festival and its new production of Wagner's Parsifal.

A statement from Mr. Nelsons and his management team read:

"With utmost respect to the Bayreuth Festival’s management and staff, director and his team, assistant conductors, cast, orchestra and chorus, Andris Nelsons has asked the Festival’s management for rescission of his contract for this Summer’s production of Parsifal."

At this stage, nobody is really sure why Mr. Nelsons stepped down from the chance to conduct Wagner's final opera, a dream-like work that explores ideas of redemption, self-abegnation and the complex relationship between compassion and wisdom. Several music writers cite the possible influence of conductor Christian Thielemann, who (according to the Times) offered his opinions to the 37-year-old Mr. Nelsons in rehearsal.

A story published by Deutsches Weile details the increase in security protocols at this year's Festival. The relaxed, summer atmosphere of Bayreuth has been replaced by checkpoints, identity checks and paperwork that has exasperated singers and annoyed artists. The new security measures are a response to recent terror attacks in Orlando, Florida, Paris, France and elsewhere.

The statement continued: "Owing to a differing approach in various matters, the atmosphere at this year’s Bayreuth Festival did not develop in a mutually comfortable way for all parties. With regret, the Bayreuth Festival agree to Andris Nelsons’ request." Mr. Nelsons' replacement remains to be announced, although Mr. Thielemann is a likely candidate for the job.

This is not the first exit to bedevil Bayreuth and this troubled production. The new staging is by director Uwe Eric Laufenberg. He was a replacement for the much more controversial German director Jonathan Meese. Mr. Meese, whose art and theater productions regularly includes Nazi imagery and the swastika, responded to his dismissal in 2014 with a statement referring to himself as "Richard Wagner's bloodhound baby."

Mr. Meese aside, Parsifal is a particularly important work in the history of Bayreuth. It premiered in 1882, and was Wagner's final stage work. It was also the only opera that the composer wrote specifically for the unique acoustics of the Festspielhaus. When the Festival reopened in 1951 after the Second World War, it was Parsifal that was its public face. The most recent production (which closed in 2012) set the action of the opera in the garden of Wahnfried, the stately home built for the composer at the same time as the Festspielhaus.

Festival director Katherina Wagner said that Mr. Laufenberg's concept is "a demanding yet captivating theatrical interpretation of the work, which is organizationally and technically and financially feasible." One wonders if this new Parsifal will be in the same mode as a recent Bayreuth Der Fliegende Holländer which featured most of the sets and costumes made from brown paper bags.

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