One rather sorry aspect of this production was the way that it was advertised to the opera public. The above ad bearing the logo of the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus, and reading "Kent Nagano conducts Wagner" was used. I don't believe its intention was to offend, but rather to amuse and make people chuckle at a glance. However, therein lies the problem.
It shows a photoshopped image of the composer manually slanting his eyes in order to make himself look "more Asian." This obviously alludes to a racist European custom of trying to mimic Asian facial characteristics by doing this. The ad comments on Kent Nagano's Japanese-American ethnicity while at the same time reminding us of Richard Wagner's own prejudicial view of the world.
Arguably, though, the ad touches a deeper vein recalling the fact that when Parsifal premiered at Bayreuth in 1882 Wagner asked conductor Hermann Levi to submit to Christian baptism in order to be purified of his "Jewishness" and be ready to properly conduct this Christian work. The ad touches upon German (Christian) supremacy, perhaps saying that someone of Japanese extraction conducting Wagner's most holy work is not only somehow preposterously humorous, but that it soils the true "German-ness" of the work (Wagner's own fears of having a Jewish conductor lead the opera's premiere). As a result the composer's most famous portrait has now metamorphosed into a grotesque mask, itself already having been "soiled."
Needless to say this is the kind of ad that clearly nobody would dare to show in the United States, England or in many other European countries. The fact that it won advertising awards in Berlin, and that nobody protested or even batted an eye when it came out speaks volumes about questions of sensitivity in Baden-Baden and the rest of Germany. On the other hand, we have to ask ourselves if our society has become way too tender to questions of race that we are in danger of completely losing our sense of humor, which I believe was the point of departure for this ad. Of course, humor directed at minorities is no humor at all.
The only question that remains in my mind is what did Kent Nagano himself think of the ad?