Opera Scotland

Parsifal

Music
Richard Wagner (born Leipzig, 2 March 1813; died Venice, 13 February 1883)

Text
The composer.

Source
Derived from poem Parzifal by Wolfram von Eschenbach (13th Century).

Premieres
First performance: Bayreuth (Festspielhaus), 26 July 1882.
First UK performance (concert): London (Albert Hall), 10 November 1884.
First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 2 February 1914.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 7 March 1922.
Scottish Opera premiere: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 4 March 2000.

Background
Wagner’s final theatre work was described as a Bühnenweihfestspiel – a Sacred Festival Drama. The theme is that of the group of Knights tasked with guarding the Holy Grail and the Sacred Spear, both of great religious significance, given their association with the Crucifixion. It is a work Wagner had planned for many years, and is linked with the much earlier Lohengrin, since Parsifal is Lohengrin’s father.  Initially performances away from Bayreuth were banned, and it was only after the New York Met broke the embargo in 1903 that performances began to take place elsewhere. The Prelude was included among the orchestral Wagner pieces on the LSO's Scottish tour under Nikisch in 1912.

Main Characters
Amfortas, ruler of the Knights of the Grail (bass-baritone)
Gurnemanz, a veteran Knight of the Grail (bass)
Klingsor, a magician (bass-baritone)
Parsifal (tenor)
Kundry (soprano)

Plot Summary
At Monsalvat, in the Kingdom of the Grail, all is not well. Gurnemanz explains to his squires that Amfortas, armed with the Sacred Spear, ventured into Klingsor’s magic garden, where Kundry seduced him. Klingsor seized the spear and wounded Amfortas with it, and the wound festers, only to be healed by the touch of the spear, which, in turn, may only be retrieved from Klingsor by a “pure fool made wise by pity”. Amfortas is brought by the knights to bathe his wound in the lake, assisted by Kundry, who is also in search of redemption. A young man is brought in, accused of shooting a swan. Gurnemanz interrogates him, and wonders if he may be the “pure fool” they have searched for. At the castle Amfortas performs the ceremony of the Grail. However the young man, Parsifal, is clearly mystified by it all, and Gurnemanz sends him away.

Parsifal, in his wanderings, finds his way to Klingsor’s magic garden. The magician, recognising him as the dreaded “pure fool”, orders his flower maidens to seduce the youth, but he is unaffected by them. When Kundry tries in her turn, her kiss gives Parsifal a vision of how Amfortas was wounded. He is now made wise by pity, as in the prediction. Kundry realises her own redemption lies in Parsifal’s hands, and when Klingsor hurls the Sacred Spear at him it hovers in mid-air, so Parsifal is able to grasp it and make the sign of the cross. Klingsor is defeated and his castle and gardens collapse.

Many years later, at Monsalvat, the knights are in a parlous state. Gurnemanz is old, and Kundry acts as his servant. A knight in armour enters, carrying a spear. Kundry senses this is Parsifal, but Gurnemanz is slow. He at last recognizes the spear, then the knight. After Kundry has washed him, Parsifal is anointed King and his first act is to baptise Kundry. In the castle Amfortas is too weak to perform the Grail ceremony, but Parsifal touches the wound with the spear and heals it. He is confirmed as the new ruler and holds the Grail aloft, as Kundry dies, redeemed at last.

The Cast

Amfortas
 Guardian of the Grail
Fifth Flower Maiden
 
First Flower Maiden
 
First Grail Knight
 
First Squire
 
Fourth Flower Maiden
 
Fourth Squire
 
Gurnemanz
 a veteran Knight
Klingsor
 a magician
Kundry
 a woman in Klingsor's power
Parsifal
 a youth
Second Flower Maiden
 
Second Grail Knight
 
Second Squire
 
Sixth Flower Maiden
 
Third Flower Maiden
 
Third Squire
 
Titurel
 Amfortas' father, former Guardian
Voice from above
 

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