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Wagner Richard
Act I
Act II
  • Richard Wagner. Bühnenweihfestspiel in three acts. 1882.
  • Libretto by the composer.
  • First performance at the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, on 26th July 1882.
Amfortas, son of Titurel, ruler of the Kingdom of the Grail bass-baritone
Titurel, his father, former ruler bass
Gurnemanz, a veteran Knight of the Grail bass
Klingsor, a magician bass
Parsifal tenor
Kundry soprano
First & Second Knights of the Grail tenor & bass
Four Esquires sopranos & tenors
Klingsor's Flower Maidens sopranos

The prelude uses motifs of the Last Supper, the Holy Grail and Faith, interwoven with a sorrow motif and part of a motif associated with the torment of sin. Gurnemanz and four esquires, sleeping in a clearing in the woods, waken and make ready for the bath of the sick King Amfortas, balm for whose pain can only come from one person, a blameless fool. Kundry, who now arrives, exhausted, brings balm for the King. The mysterious nature of Kundry is discussed, the good fortune she brings. Gurnemanz explains the entrusting to Titurel of the Grail, the cup used at Christ's last supper, a vessel that caught his blood, with the spear that caused the wound in his side. The magician Klingsor was refused admission to the temple Titurel built and in revenge created a garden with maidens of seductive beauty, a lure and temptation that has led to the downfall of many knights. Amfortas had been wounded attacking Klingsor's castle and had lost to him the Holy Spear. Parsifal enters, having shot a swan, a deed he now regrets. He knows little of his past, except that his mother was Herzeleide, Sorrowful Heart. Kundry explains further that his mother had died when he deserted her. Kundry sinks to the ground, her task fulfilled. The scene changes to the temple of the Grail. Titurel, now too weak to officiate, asks Amfortas to display the Grail, but he refuses, since the sight of the holy vessel makes his wounds bleed the more, as a sinner. Eventually he carries out his allotted task and the sacred bread and wine are given to the assembled knights. Parsifal stands fascinated at what he sees, but says and does nothing to alleviate the suffering of Amfortas. In his castle the magician Klingsor sees in his magic glass the fool approaching. He calls up Kundry, an unwilling instrument of his desire to destroy Parsifal, the blameless fool, whom he now sees attacking his knights. The scene is transformed to that of a magic garden, where the flower maidens attempt to charm Parsifal. Kundry, now in more seductive guise, sends them away and tells Parsifal of his mother. As their lips are about to meet, Parsifal comes to his senses and breaks away, feeling the pain of the wound of Amfortas, which he now understands. Kundry begs him to save her from the curse under which she has laboured since she laughed at the crucifixion of Christ. He understands her wiles and her possible salvation, rejecting her advances. Klingsor hurls the Holy Spear at him, but it remains suspended above his head. He seizes it and makes the sign of the cross with it, at which the garden and castle disappear. By the third act the Kingdom of the Grail is in desolation, the knights living on roots and herbs. Gurnemanz finds Kundry, dishevelled and weary, as in the first act, but her face is transformed. A knight approaches, Parsifal, holding the Holy Spear, which he venerates. It is Good Friday and Kundry and Gurnemanz bathe and anoint Parsifal, who baptizes Kundry. The scene changes to that of the temple, where Amfortas will perform the ceremony of the Grail for the last time, to atone for the death of his father Titurel. Parsifal enters the temple, with Gurnemanz and Kundry, and heals the wound of Amfortas with the touch of the Holy Spear, which he presents to the company. It is Parsifal who now must perform the ceremony of the Grail, which he does as a Holy Dove appears above his head and Amfortas and Gurnemanz acknowledge their new king.

Various interpretations have been put on Wagner's last opera, Parsifal, a work specifically and for some time exclusively designed for the consecration of the festival theatre at Bayreuth. At the most obvious level Parsifal may be taken to represent Christianity and Klingsor the pagan world. The mysterious Kundry, to be identified with Herodias in one of Wagner's sources, the Mabinogion, serves as a messenger to the servants of the Grail, but is forced at times to do Klingsor's will, until redeemed by one who will resist her lures, as Parsifal triumphantly does. Other aspects of Wagner’s thought have been associated with Parsifal and the work has given rise to much speculation and investigation. Orchestral excerpts from the score include the preludes to the acts and scenes and the Good Friday music. The knights' chorale Zum letzten Liebesmahle (Prepared for the Last Supper) celebrates the ceremony of the Grail and there are relatively extended explanatory narratives for Gurnemanz in Titurel, der fromme Held (Titurel, the pious hero), for Amfortas in his lament, Wehvolles Erbe (Woeful birthright) and for Kundry in Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust (I saw the child at its mother's breast).


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