A sacred work, tinged with esotericism, Parsifal confronts every director with questions that force him to take sides: what is this mysterious community of the Grail? What is the aim of the sorcerer Klingsor? What is Kundry's name? On the occasion of the new production proposed by Richard Jones, in 2018, Octave met the director to discuss his vision of Wagner's opera.
Through the knights of the Grail, Parsifal questions the idea of community. How do you imagine this community?
Richard Jones: It’s a male community, composed of advocates of non-violence who, like Wagner himself, respect all forms of life, even as regards their eating habits (vegetarianism) and who believe in unity between all living things. But they are also capable of breaking their own rules and showing violence. I think they also believe in a possible reincarnation, because Gurnemanz puts forward this hypothesis with regard to Kundry: she is expiating her sins. Of course, the Christian symbols are not absent. There is an Erlöser, a redeemer. The idea of sacrifice is central. I haven’t attempted to avoid these motifs. There is also a book, Titurel’s book which is primordial for the brotherhood. I think this book contains its dogmas and rules – the question of dogma in Wagnerian thinking being particularly sensitive.
The opera is constructed around a powerful opposition between two universes: that of the knights of the Grail and that of Klingsor the magician…
R.J.: There are two levels of illusion: a delusional pornographic world and a dogmatic world which is just as delusional. Both are brought to an end and resolve themselves in goodness, spiritual elevation and compassion. I think these illusions are there to fill up a void, to compensate the fear of sexuality and intimacy. The relationship the members of this community have with its dogma also evolves throughout the work: in Act I they are firm in their faith. By Act III their faith has diminished. From now on it only exists through rituals that they perform as empty gestures. Wagner wrote of religion that its symbols must be preserved but neither the dogma nor the institution.
Your reading of Parsifal also questions the place of science fiction in our contemporary myths…
R.J.: We imagined Klingsor as a genetician. Genetics is seen as a form of magic. Klingsor creates hyper-sexed women. He also uses hypnosis: he hypnotises Kundry and makes her believe he has several personalities, that she is Gundriga, Herodias and Kundry amongst others… He also hypnotises the knights who cross the mountain. They never return, as in the myth of the Lotus Eaters.