Endrik Wottrich: In Bayreuth’s Parsifal, I lost the love of my life

From a revealing 2013 interview by the superb German tenor, who passed away tragically this week:

‘My most unfortunate career-defining moment was when I sang Parsifal in Bayreuth, where I had already made successful appearances as Walther von Stolzing and Erik. I argued with the director, Christoph Schlingensief, who insisted on his own, very peculiar and solipsistic vision of the piece. His production was a mishmash of satanic rituals, orgies, garbage and hundreds of video projections, while I tried as much as I could to keep to Wagner’s intentions. The German media, which solely advocates provocative opera productions, criticised me harshly for arguing with Schlingensief. I was too naïve at the time to calculate what the consequences of disagreeing with him might be.

‘I’m still proud of what I did, and that I stood up for Wagner’s music, but in the end I lost not only the love of my life – Katharina Wagner – but also my conviction of the good in most people, which I assumed prevailing in my early life. Schlingensief died of cancer in 2010. That whole period was very unhappy.’

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  • With all due respect to the late Mr. Wottrich – “superb” seems a bit to high a praise for his voice. I’d use “superb” for Wagner tenors like Vogt, Kaufmann, Seiffert, but Wottrich was not in their league.

    • Seiffert may have been “superb” at some point in the past but nowadays you can fly a B-52 through his wobble and still have room for a smaller aircraft. As for Vogt, the jury is still out. And Kaufmann’s increasingly strangulated production doesn’t bode well for his future. Just saying.

      • Kaufmann is far from a Wagnerian tenor as well. He just artificially darkens his voice, but the Wagner power and stamina will never be there. He is simply a spinto tenor.

    • Kaufmann? Not at alla a Beautiful Sound! Sorry!
      Endrik’s dedicati in to Music was SUPERB. Superior!
      A High Priest of Music!
      Then if we want to Talk only about being famous… i’d say: Bla Bla…
      Signora Angela!

  • Amazing and sad what happens in the current business of opera and classical music if and when those who deem themselves powerful over and above everyone else are questioned or confronted. It is shameful and disgraceful.

    • The whole classical music biz is more and more turning into an irrational unpleasant cesspool of narcissistic tantrums and stupidity. And the worst are these Über-Artists, who give these hypocritical lip-testimonies about humbleness and serving the music, and do anything but when it comes to putting themselves into perspective.

    • The problem is, as always, Regietheater. Schlingensief obviously had no idea where Parsifal is about (in this he is not alone of course, even the composer was not quite sure), and ‘provocative productions’ are put on in an attempt to create scandal and thus, publicity. Which is becoming utterly conventional since the press unanimously applauds whatever nonsense is presented on stage…. audiences who feel offended and thus fulfilling the director’s expectations, will stay away from future performances, and audiences who have come to accept such productions as ‘modern’ won’t be offended, thus undermining the director’s intentions as well. It is a self-defeating trajectory undermining the art form. Bayreuth is in a particular difficult position because they are no longer the model performance theatre for Wagner, since these difficult operas are now produced everywhere and many of the productions are conventionally ‘provocative’, à la Regietheater.

      The really ‘provocative’ production style would be, of course, an ‘oldfashioned’ one, i.e. returning to an approach which directs from the work itself outwards instead of covering it with alien ideas.

      • and when thinking further, the problem with Regietheater, is the accumulation of casting power in the hands of a few Intendanten, building a fraternity with the music journalists, who have fallen for a perceptional bias of the small circle of people who have seen everything, many times, and are eager for stronger, harder and more “exotic” stimuli.
        While the majority of the audience sees a certain opera usually only once in their life time. Sometimes twice. In rare cases more often…
        But the Intendanten could care less what the audience wants.
        Or what the young people and children make out of it, seeing a bad Regietheater opera. Maybe they will not return.

        • I once attended an opera where the entire plot took place in the middle of a sunflower field. Although the production was, in itself, well done, it was also incomprehensible what the sunflowers were there for, since they were not mentioned in the plot and it was impossible to relate them to the work. According to the programme booklet, the idea had a philosophical angle which deepend the mystery. Behind me a mother vainly tried to explain to her two teenage sons what happened on stage, nervously whispering, but the youthful sighs betrayed a profound incomprehension and boredom. (They won’t be part of future audiences, for sure.)

  • I dimly recall a ‘scandal’ when he sang in Parsifal at Bayreuth.

    https://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2004/7/News/Accusations_Over_Schlingensief_s_Parsifal_Degrade_into_P_R__Disaster_for_Bayreuth.html
    What on earth was this all about? Seems he and Christoph Schlingensief were calling each racists while Parsifal was being prepared?

    Can anyone put the record straight or shed any light?

    I had no idea he and Katharina stepped out… She will be hit by this.

    • Here’s a bit more on that whole Schlingensief vs Wottrich thing in the linked Stern article below:
      http://www.stern.de/kultur/musik/bayreuther-festspiele-der-skandal-nach-dem-ausgebliebenen-skandal-3066954.html
      (Sorry, only auf Deutsch)

      In short, about the racism bit; Schlingensief publicly claimed that Wottrich was bothered during rehearsals because of (in Wottrich’s alleged words) “a Negro* was to be seen on a screen”. Wottrich emphatically denied complaining about that and declared that he only told four Black extras that they “didn’t really have to come on stage, as nobody would see them anyway” due to the dimmed stage lighting.
      Wottrich in turn accused Schlingensief of making a racist joke, “Because they’re so dark, you can’t see them”.
      He also claimed that Schlingensief “treated extras like sh*t” and that he had racist tendencies in him because he only cast Black extras for roles depicting servants and menial laborers.
      *Wottrich didn’t deny using the term Negro (original German, ‘Neger’) and said “I will use the word ‘Negro’ when I want to do so. And I will not be issued an order in this matter by such a wally as Mr. Schlingensief”.

  • Endrik Wottrich was indeed a SUPERB tenor. Please just listen to him singing Max in Harnoncourts “Freischütz” recording (Teldec 1998), his Siegmund with Thielemann (Bayreuth 2006-2009) or under Abbado in Schumann’s “Scenes from ‘Faust'” (Sony 1995). Maybe Wottrich’s slightly hoarse ‘timbre’ is not for everyone, and his lisp can sometime be distracting. He has (he had …) a very significant, beautiful and recognisable voice though.

  • I worked on the Schlingensief Parsifal and witnessed some of the disagreements first-hand. Even though I hated his visual concept, I have to say that the director did indeed understand what the piece was about; he just chose a rather controversial way of portraying it. A friend, a specialist in certain aspects of African anthropology and rituals, explained what she saw, despite not speaking a word of German and not knowing Wagner’s libretto. Her description fitted the plot like a glove. Endrik clearly wanted a more conventional production in which to portray his character. It goes without saying that this kind of confrontation is commonplace in opera.

    • +10 It is very sad a video r cording and as never released. Then more of us could comment on the positives of this production. The usual suspects have their knee jerk reaction to regietheater. I believe Schlingensief was a talented,insightful director and is sadly missed.

      • Schlingensief was already very well known when he engaged Wottrich, who could not possibly have expected a traditional staging by Schlingensief. Accepting the part and complaining about the mise-en-scène does indeed come across as naïve.

    • African anthropology has nothing (nothing, really) to do with Wagner’s Parsifal. All those types of change only distract from the work. Also it should be mentioned that location in Wagner’s works are mostly abstractions, to give ample opportunity for the narrative and the music to do their universal workings.

      That anthropologist probably understood as little as the stage director and was therefore on the same wave length. Thou shelst not tamper with works of art, but interpret them, with the material that is offered by the work itself, and where there are gaps in the material, they should be filled-out in accordance with the rest that is there. Is that so difficult to understand? Yes, it seems.

      • Not entirely fair, John. There’s nothing abstract in the locations of any of Tristan, Meistersinger, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser or even Parsifal. As for the anthropologist knowing as little as Schlingensief, well, that’s just empty conjecture but I’m not here to argue about that. I’m no fan of Regietheater and disliked what I felt to be the almost wilful ugliness of Schlingensief’s set, but to say that he didn’t understand the contents of the work is inaccurate.

        • Of all Wagner’s operas, only Meistersinger has a specific location and that was related to the nationalistic message of the work. In all the other (mature) works, location is of no importance. And ‘understanding the work’ goes deeper than being able to follow the plot. Schl was obviously only appointed to get publicity, not to have the work be reborn as it is, or could be. If the stage director has all kinds of personal ideas he wants to express, he should be appointed for a new work altogether so that he can collaborate with the composer. Given the morbid ugliness of Schl, there are crowds of modernists who would be too happy to add to the misery.

      • @John
        I don’t think you possess the Deutungshoheit towards Parsifal. Even if you were Richard Wagner, you lose your total control over it once the work was born. The work evolves and interacts with the world autonomously and would eventually become much greater than your own vision and ego.

        To assert African anthropology has absolutely nothing and will never have anything to do with Parsifal is bold, and almost arouses the suspicion of being arrogant. Is there any chance that an African anthropologist knows more about Parsifal than you about African anthropology?

        In the past, people (including Gustav Mahler) thought that women had nothing to do with composition. But you never know. Times change.

        • wrong. the work does not interact with anything and anyone autonomously. the work is relayed from the composer as scripture, witnesses and hearsay, in the context of his time and being.
          The perception of these traces are what matters. And say all about the recipients, nothing about the work. Schlingensief was one such recipient.
          The work only lives through its recipients. it can thus not be bigger than its recipients, since it doesn’t exist without them.

          This is all distraction. What matters is if you can make the work live and reach and touch many people, as close to the composers intention as we can assume.
          These interpretations as Schlingensief’s ultimately say all about him and little about the work.

  • As I understood Christoph Schlingensief’s production, following his adventures in Africa prior to commencing the production rehearsals in Bayreuth, he was convinced that every religious and possibly ethnic group in the world had its own ‘Gral’, all of which were ultimately connected with some creator force and which he depicted as Mother Earth in conjunction with a fertility ritual in his staging. Every religious community, in its appropriately male costumed form, as well as perceived fertility symbol, made an appearance. Aside from Kundry, the youg knights, or ‘Knappe’, the ‘Blumenmädchen’ and a stage extra as Mother Earth, no woman was otherwise to be seen. The members of women’s chorus were consigned to their usual off-stage position in the ‘Höchste Höhe’ of the fly tower. With an over-dependence on projections and video sequences – the time-lapse decaying of a dead rabbit, itself apparently a fertility/holy grail symbol to a North African tribe, springs to mind – the production was seriously overloaded and detracted from the cognitive reception of the music. The admonition of ‘less is more’ would have been appropriate. Schlingensief’s was a challenging but, in my opinion, a wholly-unsatisfying interpretation. Certainly, it proved contraversial amongst regular Bayreuth visitors and Wagner devotees as well as dividing opinion, even amongst those who had not seen it! All a matter of taste. Schlingensief’s psychedelic interpretation ushered in the current Berlin-centric period of stage direction in Bayreuth, which continues to polarise. Endrik Wottrich was, probably, frustrated that his interpretation, his once in a lifetime opportunity to perform a dream role ‘am Grünen Hügel’, was undermined by the staging, where in the half-light of the stage one had difficulty actually pinpointing Parsifal amidst the ‘wirrwarr’. I hasten to add that I did not hear Endrik as Parsifal but Alfons Eberz the next year. I knew Endrik as a colleague and heard him many times but in other Wagnerian roles. He was always very affable and courteous towards me on each and every encounter. Diplomacy was perhaps not Endrik’s forté but there could be no misunderstanding of his opinion as he was forthright and direct in his expression of same. I wonder if the two same protagonists are now continuing their heated discourse on a higher plain. Let’s hope so.

    • Certainly, the mythological aspects of Wagner operas, and especially Parsifal, touch on universal archetypes which are expressed in different cultures in different ways. But should that be a reason to take that literally, and take elements from any other culture into a work so thoroughly European as Parsifal? Recently someone gave me a flyer for a new production of Stravinsky’s ‘L’Histoire du Soldat’ where the plot has been entirely transplanted towards Indonesia, with Javanese protagonists – but with the music intact. Why not have a new piece written if you want to change the plot so drastically? Such cultural-crossing seem to imply that in a new guise, however alien to the original work, would add extra interest to it, or that the original work is in itself not interesting enough.

  • Endrik was a fantastic Wagner tenor,although pushing to hard sometimes,and singing some parts to early in his career.But he had a wonderful voice.Vogt has no voice at all.He sounds like a counter tenor out of his comfort zone,faking and falsettoing his way through the roles.

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