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Will Bayreuth's 2016 Parsifal Director Now Have To Withdraw From The Festival?

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 28 June 2013 | 5:11:00 pm

"A swastika is a no-go, not only in Bayreuth. " Christian Thielemann talking about Yevgeny Nikitin's disputed tattoo last year.
Last year, Yevgeny Nikitin withdrew from Bayreuth's Dutchman due to media accusations that he had had a swastika tattoo,  now tattooed over,  when he was a child (there is some dispute as to whether the 16 year old Nikitin ever had this tattoo but let us stick with this version for now). When he withdrew from the performances it was after speaking to the Bayreuth management, who in interviews since have said they "understood his reasons and supported them". Indeed, as we have seen Christian Thielemann went further saying, "A swastika is a no-go, not only in Bayreuth". (Ed: Which of course is incorrect. The swastika has appeared at Bayreuth on many occasions both during and after the fall of the Third Reich. Although only on the stage after the Third Reich and relatively recently) But noted that Nikitin could return once he had the tattoo covered (although, as we have already noted, it was covered at the time of the incident - if indeed it ever existed). With that in mind, what are Bayreuth to make of the latest "antics" of its chosen 2016 Parsifal director: Jonathan Meese? Behaviour which will see him making a court appearance in Kassel in July for similar previous offences? We shall not bore you with an overview of the "controversial" German artist's career but will suggest anyone unaware might like to read this brief summary here and here

On the 14 July Meese will be brought before the German courts in Kassel for making a public Nazi salute - prohibited under German law. Now, while this might make a more thoughtful man pause, German theatre goers on Wednesday found this to be far from the case. During a 165-minute "one man show"at the Nationaltheater Mannheim - as part of Schillertage - Meese throw all caution to the wind and went further than he has previously. He entered stage left wearing a mask made up of the Iron Cross, performed cunnilingus on a rubber alien bearing a swastika, skipped with a ring of sausages, yelled mantra like at the audience for being clones of the "democratic ideology that amounted to state-sanctioned terrorism", criticised the 1968 generation as being interested in “mass individualism and gang bangs.” and nothing else (Ed: This should make his meeting with this years Ring director - Frank Castorf, Germany's oldest "angrey young man", interesting - as he is clearly of that generation) and spent much of the performance walking around the stage giving Nazi salutes to the audience.

So, annoyed were the normally "resilient"  (Ed: one has to be to sit through a lot of modern German stage productions) Nationaltheater audience that most had left before the end of the performance  - with the only applause emanating stage right from Meese's own staff.

Given that he is already in "hot water" in Kassel  for an even less "extreme" offense, this is unlikely to help his case - and may lead to a further prosecution in Mannheim.

But back to our point about whether this should mean that Meese should "do the honorable thing" and withdraw from Bayreuth in 2016  - as  Nikitin did last year with the backing of the Bayreuth management? Last year, no one, rightly for this no evidence of it at all, accused Nikitin of racism, antisemitism or being a fascist. And indeed, it would be impossible to accuse Meese of any of these things either, for once again there is no evidence .  But if the controversy over an old tattoo that might or might not have existed lead to one artist withdrawing for "the good of the festival" and the "sensitive nature" of the event  would not the same be the case here? Especially as this artist has been brought before the courts for his behavior?

An interesting dilemma and one which we will  watch develop.