I've seen but a single Robert Wilson production, and that via TV: his staging of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice done for the Paris Théâtre du Chatelet. I was hugely impressed by his work there, as I was by the performance in general. Wilson's poetic-symbolic mise en scène was beautiful, evocative, and riveting, as was his poetic-symbolic static choreographing of the action; to my way of thinking, both pitch-perfect concepts for the staging of this work.
It occurred to me, however, that if for the Théâtre du Chatelet's new production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen Wilson attempted that same sort of static aesthetic in his choreographing of the action it would, at best, be a cardinal miscalculation, and certain to end up badly. (For production photos and comments on the Siegfried, see here and here.) I can in fact imagine only two Wagner operas where such a static choreographic aesthetic would be appropriate and work to advantage: Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal, the latter — and in all respects — seemingly made with such a staging aesthetic in mind.
Wilson apparently thought so as well for he did in fact stage Parsifal for the Hamburg Opera in 1991 utilizing that static choreographic aesthetic; a staging that made its debut here in the States in 1992 at the Houston Grand Opera, and seen again last year in the Los Angeles Opera's production of Parsifal with Los Angeles Opera general manager Plácido Domingo in the title role.
And how did that staging work out? Here's what Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed had to say:
Robert Wilson's production of Wagner's "Parsifal," unveiled by Los Angeles Opera on Saturday evening [26 November 2005], is stunningly beautiful....
Wilson's productions are always stunning, always miraculous exercises in elegant design and astonishing light. This one is a classic. It was first produced at the Hamburg Opera in 1991 and mounted at Houston Grand Opera the following year. On a glowing backdrop, Wilson creates the effect of a living Mark Rothko painting in light throughout Wagner's long, slow, musically complex, spiritual and — if you have the patience to let it work its magic on you — transfixing last opera. That light show alone is pretty much worth the steep price of admission to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Wilson throws out as much Wagnerian religiosity as he can. He focuses instead on the astonishing prescience of "Parsifal," a work that was at its premiere in 1882 the most harmonically advanced, architecturally fluid music ever written. It foretold, two decades before Einstein, not only the future of music but also science, as Gurnemanz, the Grail's guru, explains to an uncomprehending Parsifal that in this world, time and space are one.
Wilson adds light to the equation (originally devised by Jennifer Tipton but here credited to A.J. Weissbard). His greatest contribution is the creation of illuminated images that don't so much illuminate the narrative as the music. The stage is all but bare. The swan that Parsifal kills is but a large wing in the background. The Grail is a large flattened torus, a thick neon-lighted bagel chip.