|Not Lepage (Parsifal in Bayreuth)|
Later I’ll have much more on last night’s premiere of Siegfried from the Met. But I wanted to deal with one point independently, because if I explained it fully in my real review it would hijack the whole post.
In Robert Lepage’s new production, we see Mime find the infant Siegfried during the Prelude. He sneaks up on the dying Sieglinde, grabs her baby, and runs off. (Please correct me if I missed something here, I was in the Family Circle and it was dimly lit. But that’s what I saw. It was quick.) This directly contradicts his later accounts of Siegfried’s birth, where he says Sieglinde also gave him the pieces of Nothung the sword and told him to name the baby Siegfried (and also presumably the identity of Siegmund, which Mime does not tell Siegfried). OK, Mime is plausibly an unreliable narrator and found those things out in other ways. But Lepage never does anything else to show or explore the implications that Mime is lying when he is talking to Siegfried about his birth, it’s left hanging.
But much more severe is the implication that Mime is not an accidental adoptive father but rather a baby snatcher. The character of Mime is already a locus of several topoi of antisemitism: greediness, a whining voice, a hunched walk. The idea of Jews stealing (Christian) babies is part of blood libel (a short history of the term is here), the accusation that Jews will use their blood in some ritual, historically one of the nastiest myths of anti-Semites. I may be hyper-aware of this particular idea because it was self-consciously presented by Stefan Herheim in his Bayreuth production of Parsifal. Kundry, dressed as a nurse, steals the baby Parsifal from his mother Herzeleide (see photo above).
I am honestly rather shocked that Lepage did this. There is no Get Out of Jail Free card when it comes to antisemitism and Wagner, you absolutely have to be aware of the issues and either avoid presenting racist stereotypes at all or clearly foreground them (as Herheim does above). (Following three sentences added later to clarify:) Lepage’s lack of dramturgical context makes the moment interpretively messy, but more grievously he replicates the dog whistle way that these topoi work. It seems like a random insertion if you aren’t familiar with the ideology, but if you know anything about the history of antisemitism you will make the association right away (Mime = Jew = bad). And I don’t think that this is an association that needs reviving.
I’m sure that this is cluelessness or naivité from a director who shows that he doesn’t know much about Wagner, but that no one else pointed it out is distressing.
Updated to add: my regular Siegfried piece is here.
More on the rest later today. Thanks to the Zwölftöner for his lecture on Mime and antisemitism when we saw Siegfried in Vienna last April.