Opera Essentials: Parsifal
A quick guide to Wagner's final great masterpiece.
28 November 2013 at 11.25am | 3 Comments
The Story Begins…
The Grail community is in despair, due to the sickness of its ruler Amfortas. A mysterious young man arrives, who appears to know almost nothing, not even his own name. Might he be the ‘pure fool, enlightened by compassion’ who according to a prophecy will heal the community?
A Long Gestation
Wagner first read the poem that inspired Parsifal in 1845. He first drafted a scenario in 1857 and over the following decades periodically returned to the text, finally completing a libretto in 1879. Wagner completed the score of Parsifal in January 1882, and the opera had its premiere at his Bayreuth Festival in July of the same year. After the premiere, an embargo was placed on the work, forbidding performances outside the Bayreuth Festival. The Metropolitan Opera, New York, broke the embargo in 1903 and it was officially lifted in 1914.
From Medieval Romance to Sacred Festival Play
Parsifal is loosely based on scenes from Parzival, a romance by the medieval German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach (who features as a character in Wagner’s Tannhäuser). Wagner’s many alterations to the story for his libretto included making Parsifal a far more innocent, childlike figure, and increasing the importance of the character of Kundry.
Both Sacred and Sensual
The score of Parsifal moves from sections with a strong sacred element (such as the Prelude to Act I, and the Act I procession to the Grail Hall, both of which use the recurrent ‘Dresden Amen’ motif) to long passages of great sensuality, such as Kundry’s dialogue with Parsifal in Act II. Act III contains long sections of almost unearthly beauty, including the ‘Good Friday’ music and the closing scene of the score, in which Parsifal returns to the Grail Hall.
A Work of Great Humanity
Stephen Langridge’s production emphasizes the timeless and universal nature of the Parsifal story. The characters and we, the audience, journey from the bitter suffering and schadenfreude of Act I to the radiancy of Act III, in which the spiritual world is finally open to all. Parsifal’s discovery of compassion enables him to heal the other characters.
Parsifal runs from 30 November to 18 December 2013. Tickets are still available.
The production will also be relayed live to cinemas around the world on 18 December. Find your nearest cinema and sign up for the cinema newsletter.
The production is staged with generous philanthropic support of the Metherell Family, Roland & Sophie Rudd, Dr and Mrs Michael West, Marina Hobson MBE, Ian and Helen Andrews, Peter and Fiona Espenhahn, Annie Frankel, Malcolm Herring, Dr L Mikheev and N Mikheev, Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson, The Wagner Circle and The Parsifal Production Syndicate and generously supported in memory of Simon Tullah.