Parsifal, Opera by Richard Wagner
Parsifal, an epic tale of chivalry in which we witness the triumph of innocence and compassion over evil and death, was Richard Wagner’s last and arguably his greatest opera.
Only Parsifal can save Amfortas, Guardian of the Holy Grail. Amfortas has been mortally wounded by the magician Klingsor with the spear that dealt Christ his final blow. Only the same weapon, wielded by a knight with a pure heart, will restore him. Parsifal, by resisting all the worldly temptations placed before him, captures the spear and destroys Klingsor’s castle.
Premiered on 26 July 1882 at the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, Wagner first read the story that inspired Parsifal, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s thirteenth-century poem Parzival, in 1845. According to his autobiography, he did not write his initial sketch for the opera until twelve years' later, in 1857.
Wagner’s operas typically had a long gestation; a fact that has only added to the mythology that still seems to surround them. Critics strive to find literal textual interpretations of Wagner’s works when it is more likely that their true meaning is locked in the ethereal quality of his music.
The diaries written by his wife, Cosima, provide telling insights into what influenced her husband. One entry, recorded in 1881 while Wagner was in the final stages of orchestrating Parsifal, notes their visit to Palermo and specifically the Cathedral in Monreale. Both were clearly awestruck by what they saw. Every note of Parsifal is an attempt to capture and convey what we feel when we encounter something we cannot fully understand.
Now Parsifal’s performance at the Wiener Staatsoper offers audiences another opportunity to hear music that defies analysis yet whose transcendence is undeniable.