in News | 12 MAY 05
Featured in
Issue 91

Jonathan Meese ist Mutter Parzival

Deutsche Staatsoper, Berlin

in News | 12 MAY 05

At the Staatsoper fans of yearning set to music were offered a six-hour opera première: Parsifal, Richard Wagner’s last opera, directed by Bernd Eichinger (who is also the producer of the new film about Hitler, Downfall) and conducted by Daniel Barenboim. This was accompanied, or rather counteracted, by a performance entitled Jonathan Meese ist Mutter Parzival (Jonathan Meese is Mother Parsifal) which took place in the draughty scenery storeroom, where Meese built a multi-level stage, adorned with ten skeletons, an ensemble of cowbells, various bits of armour, crosses, portraits of Klaus Kinski and of the artist himself.
Meese had set himself the task of responding to the mythology of Wagnerian music for the duration of the Eichinger’s production, which included two intervals; during this time anyone attending the première could come over from the opera house and watch. The music, along with all the accompanying boos, coughs, applause and silence, was transmitted from the opera house into the storeroom. The stage was dominated by a enormous, walk-in bust of Wagner crowned by a pointed cap that made him look like a Smurf. For the overture Meese shut himself inside Wagner’s head along with a Meese puppet with a giant cock, dressed in a tracksuit top. A video projection allowed the audience to see the artist taking time out for a fortifying meal of sausages (the famous Berliner Knackwurst), hard-boiled eggs and red wine. ‘Chow down, comrade!’ Slowly he began to recite, interrupting himself to drink and eat, award a medal to the Meese puppet and shower kisses on its significant part while screaming ‘Solitude is your sixth puberty!’ When he emerged from the bust, his rhetorical and gestural repertoire really got going, and included excerpts from Nazi speeches, Akhenaton, Hitlerian drivel, Saint-Just, Germanic legends and Templar Egyptology – a scrap heap of myth served as a collection of spare parts from which a mixture of male war lust and violent fantasy was assembled.
The audience for the premiere included Wagner’s granddaughter Nike, who actually put in an appearance in the storeroom during the interval, confiding in the gallerists from Contemporary Fine Arts that she ‘would have to think about this’ (she did come back a second time). While Meese was screaming, film projections showed his earlier performances, including his caricature of Hitler and the artist at a table pushing beer bottles around and eating sardines straight from the tin, in front of an imaginary model of ‘Germania’, the capital of the world as planned by the Führer and his architect Albert Speer. On stage Meese froze into a minute-long Nazi salute, as if refuelling for the next torrent of words. With a glowing finger outstretched he seemed to be trying to connect the steaming pile of cosmological crap that he samples with the present. No wonder he wore a chain-mail glove: pure self-protection.
Meese may be an impassioned bender of phalluses, but does that make him a feminist? Probably not, since his discourse is not inter-sexual. But he certainly knows how to eat a sausage, and his ‘Mother Parsifal’ took very good care of its audience. There were plenty of cushions to sit on, and next to the ticket booth there was a hospitality suite: on offer was pea soup and cream cake with cherries on top.