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Photo: Enrico Nawrath


Parsifal was Wagner’s last opera and it is clear that we are in the company of a master composer who is in full command of his orchestral instruments.

This Bayreuth 2023 production by American stage director Jay Schieb attracts particular attention with its AR (augmented reality) set design, which some of the audience have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with.

Wow, what a magnificent visual and musical experience!

AR is a little different from VR (virtual reality), which you may be familiar with. VR is a bit like putting a TV screen on your head like a diving mask in which an amazing digital world can unfold.

AR works a little more flexibly as a kind of transparent-glass TV goggles that add an augmented reality on top of what you can see on stage.

In other words, an extra digital layer of scenographic, dramatic flourish that can be used (and abused) for anything.

AR/Video artist Joshua Higgason has created extraordinary visual effects, dream visions and escalating projections of the characters’ inner lives, with the action and moods on stage extemporized in incredible 3D animations to say the least.

Burning bushes pop up in the audience, swans, spears and arrows flutter directly at your head, forcing you to duck. Occasionally, you have to lift your glasses to make sure that the entire theater is NOT on fire and death is imminent.

The second act’s spectacular scene with its Paradise Hotel spoof of a flashy swimming pool, surrounded by scantily clad women in Barbie pink, seductively tempting in the closeup of the glasses, makes it hard to take your mind off what AR can do for the sex industry!

The musical experience is magnificent. The soloists are top notch with Andreas Schager as Parsifal and Ekaterina Gubanova as Kudry.

The set design by Mimi Lien is almost biblical, monumental in scale, matching the religious seriousness of the show, which is based on the story of the knight Parsifal and his search for the spear used to stab the crucified Jesus.

The third act with the famous Easter interlude, which is often performed as a stand-alone piece in concert, unfortunately suffers from a provocative lack of stage dynamics and, despite sublime set design and impressive costumes, is lost in a beautiful but almost endless, solemn stream of strings and horns.

A manifestation of Wagner’s well-known, fully saturated expression that puts the audience to the test in the packed hall, where the temperature approaches critical heights and the gala-clad audience sweats in long dresses and tuxedos.

Here, despite its technical finesse, the AR meta layer begins to bite itself in the tail with incessant flying objects and more or less meaningful graphic inventions – floating shopping bags, used batteries, rattling detergent packaging and other plastic waste. (A pollution of pure faith? One wonders.)

Keep going with gilded hand grenades between swarms of birds, insects and meteor rocks that turn out to be human skulls, grotesquely grinning, swirling through time and space.

The AR technique is both entertaining and disturbing, as in Bayreuth’s unsubtitled direction, it is often more than difficult, if not almost impossible, to catch the references.

Here is where you can choose to get a little prudish, finding the effects clever but superficial through negligent and excessive use.

The standing ovations, on the other hand, do not fail after a total of 6-7 hours of Wagner at full blast, including the two obligatory 50-minute breaks where the audience takes in the festival area’s selection of restaurants and bars, before trumpet fanfares from the balcony traditionally play people back into the hall.

Bratwurst meets champagne in exemplary coexistence at the Wagner Festival Bayreuth, and it’s hard not to feel grateful.

Parsifal in AR staging is also to be found at the 2024 edition of the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. The program has just been announced and includes a complete performance of The Ring, which I’m already looking forward to writing about.

AR is probably more of an interesting spice than a dramatic device that will become commonplace. Despite the objections, the technique is an exceptional experience and well worth the journey.

That’s 5 stars from Got To See This