23. October 2017

The opera “Mondparsifal Beta 9-23” by Jonathan Meese at Berliner Festspiele draws visitors into a cosmos where logic plays only a subordinate role.

By Julia Schmitz

“Hats off, it’s Wagner” – at the latest when the white letters (that later become surtitles) appear on the theater wall of the Berliner Festspiele do we realize: We are in for anything but classic Wagner. Jonathan Meese is director, stage and costume designer for the opera, which was written by Bernard Lang, modeled on Wagner’s “Parsifal”, and was realized with Simone Young as musical director. In other words, in Berlin Meese is allowed to do that which, following long discussions, he was denied at the Bayreuth Festspiele.

With his work embedded in the two-year “Immersion” program of the Berliner Festspiele the long-haired artist, who always appears wearing a black Adidas tracksuit, has now created his fairytale-like world; one completely under the sway of his propagated “Dictatorship of A.R.T.” and which, in three acts, succeeds in transporting viewers into a state of subtle rapture.

Captain Kirk

The individual stage sets, which look something like a larger-than-life diorama, change several times in the course of the performance and are so rich in detail as to easily overshadow the somewhat sparse backdrop of the contemporary theater. At the beginning of the opera Wolfgang Bankl as Gurnemanz climbs over a lunar base made of white construction foam and, with his long black hair and Adidas tracksuit, seems like an homage to the artist behind the stage. Later, he is joined by a choir of Grail Knights in the guise of Vulcans, who sing of Amfortas – sung by Tómas Tómasson dressed as Captain James T. Kirk – and his never-healing wound.

Jonathan Meese, MONDPARSIFAL BETA 9–23 (VON EINEM, DER AUSZOG DEN „WAGNERIANERN DES GRAUENS“ DAS „GEILSTGRUSELN“ ZU ERZLEHREN…), © Jan Bauer, Courtesy of Jonathan Meese
Jonathan Meese, MONDPARSIFAL BETA 9–23 (VON EINEM, DER AUSZOG DEN „WAGNERIANERN DES GRAUENS“ DAS „GEILSTGRUSELN“ ZU ERZLEHREN…), © Jan Bauer, Courtesy of Jonathan Meese

In the magic garden of Klingsor, who despite having emasculated himself was not admitted to the circle of the Grail Knights and is plotting revenge, manga girls cast lusting gazes, while Kundry, in an authentic Barbarella outfit, tries to seduce Parsifal. Daniel Gloger, clad only in a red loincloth and high boots and thus resembling Zed from the 1970s sci-fi movie “Zadoz”, sings the role of the “dumb fool” deliberately in shrill tones – but Parsifal holds firm.

Annoying

What Meese presents is a wild romp through the history of (Pop) culture. This is supported by the musical form that Bernhard Lang selected for his Wagner version: Almost every sentence sung is “looped”, in other words, repeated up to five times. What might initially be entertaining, because it is so wonderfully unorthodox, all too quickly engenders the irritating sensation of dealing with a record getting stuck.

Jonathan Meese, MONDPARSIFAL BETA 9–23 (VON EINEM, DER AUSZOG DEN „WAGNERIANERN DES GRAUENS“ DAS „GEILSTGRUSELN“ ZU ERZLEHREN…), © Jan Bauer, Courtesy of Jonathan Meese

No matter how deep you delve into Meese’s cosmos, in whose chaotic commentaries the artist’s favorite word “Erz” (meaning something like a combination of ‘primordial’ and ‘ore’) features very frequently, the endless loops of the libretto are immensely annoying, and the music almost fades into the background. Lang relentlessly unpicks and remixes the opera classic until, as a viewer, you stop trying to find any continuity or logic and simply surrender yourself in capitulation.

Indignation guaranteed

“Immersion is an ambivalent phenomenon for us that equally stands for rapture or meditation and gives rise to detachment and fundamental questioning,” writes Thomas Oberender, Director of the Berliner Festspiele, in his preface to the Immersion series. Thus he has found perfect allies in Jonathan Meese and Bernhard Lang: This shrilly colorful opera event, which would most certainly have produced cries of indignation on the green hill of the Bayreuth Festspiele, not only intoxicates spectators for four hours, but is also a critical examination of the Wagner myth in terms of its relevance for the present day. A veritable “super-horror”!

Jonathan Meese, MONDPARSIFAL BETA 9–23 (VON EINEM, DER AUSZOG DEN „WAGNERIANERN DES GRAUENS“ DAS „GEILSTGRUSELN“ ZU ERZLEHREN…), © Jan Bauer, Courtesy of Jonathan Meese