Music and libretto by Richard Wagner.
First Performance: 26 July 1882, Bayreuth (Festspielhaus)
|First and Second Knights of the Grail||Tenor/Bass|
|First and Second Squires||Soprano|
|Third and Fourth Squires||Tenor|
|Klingsor’s Flower Maidens||Soprano/Alto|
Time and Place: In the vicinity of Monsalvat, the castle of the Knights of the Grail, located in the northern mountains of Gothic Spain.
In a wood near the castle of Monsalvat, home to the Knights of the Grail, Gurnemanz, one of the Knights of the Grail, wakes his young squires and leads them in prayer. He notices the retinue of Amfortas approach, and asks the leading Knight for news of the King’s health. The knight tells him that the King has suffered during the night and is going early for his bath. The squires ask Gurnemanz to explain how the King’s injuries can be healed, but before he can do so a wild woman – Kundry – bursts in. She offers a balsam for the King’s pain which she claims is from Arabia and then collapses, exhausted.
Amfortas, King of the Grail Knights, arrives, carried on a stretcher. He asks for Gawain, only to be told that this Knight has left without his permission. Angrily, Amfortas says that this sort of impetuousity was what led him to Klingsor’s realm and to his downfall. He receives Kundry’s potion and tries to thank her, but she answers, incoherently, that thanks will not help and urges him to his bath.
The King leaves, and the squires question Kundry mistrustfully. Gurnemanz tells them that Kundry has often helped the Grail Knights but that she appears and disappears at her whim. When he asks her why she does not stay to help, she replies that she never helps. The squires think she is a witch and sneer that if she is so helpful, why does she not find the Holy Spear for them? Gurnemanz says that this is destined to be the job of another. He tells them that Amfortas had been the guardian of the Spear, but lost it when seduced by a fearsomely attractive woman in Klingsor’s domain. Klingsor had stabbed Amfortas with the Spear: this is the wound which causes Amfortas’ suffering and it will never heal.
Two squires, returning from the King’s bath, tell Gurnemanz that Kundry’s balsam has eased the King’s sufferings for the moment. His squires ask Gurnemanz whether he knew Klingsor. He tells them of how the Holy Spear, which was used to wound the Redeemer on the Cross, and the Grail which caught His blood, had come to Monsalvat to be guarded by the Knights of the Grail under the rule of Titurel – Amfortas’ father. Klingsor had yearned to join the Knights, but had been unable to drive impure thoughts from his mind and resorted to self-castration which led to his expulsion. Klingsor then bitterly set himself up in opposition to the Kingdom of the Grail, learning dark arts and establishing a domain full of beautiful flower-maidens who seduce and destroy the Knights of the Grail. It was in this way that Amfortas lost the Holy Spear, which is now in Klingsor’s hand. Gurnemanz relates how Amfortas then had a vision in which he was told to wait for a “holy fool, enlightened by compassion” (“Durch Mitleid Wissend, der Reine Tor”) who would finally heal his wound.
At this moment, cries are heard from the Knights: a swan has been shot, and a young man is dragged in carrying a bow. Gurnemanz berates the boy, telling him that this is a holy domain, and asking what had the swan ever done to injure the boy. The boy remorsefully breaks his bow and is unable to answer any question put to him: why is he here, who is his father, how did he arrive at the realm of the Grail and what is his name? When asked what he does know, the boy says he has a mother called Herzeleide, and that he made his bow himself. Kundry has been watching and now she tells them that the boy’s father was Gamuret, a knight killed in battle, and how the boy’s mother had forbidden her son to use a sword, fearing that he would suffer the same fate as his father. The boy exclaims that after seeing Knights passing through his forest he immediately left his mother to follow them. Kundry laughs and tells the boy that his mother has died of grief, at which the boy attempts to attack Kundry, but then collapses in grief. Kundry suddenly seems overcome with sleep, but cries out that she must not sleep and wishes that she would never waken. She crawls off to rest.
Gurnemanz invites the boy to observe the Grail ritual at Monsalvat. The boy does not know what the Grail is, but remarks as they walk that although he scarcely moves, he has travelled far. Gurnemanz tells him that in this realm, time becomes space.
They arrive at the Hall of the Grail and observe the ceremony. The voice of Titurel is heard, telling his son, Amfortas, to uncover the Grail. Amfortas is racked with shame and suffering. He is the Guardian of the Grail, and yet he has succumbed to temptation and lost the Holy Spear: he declares himself unworthy of his office. He cries out for forgiveness (“Erbarmen!”) but hears only the promise of future redemption by the “Holy Fool, enlightened by compassion”. The Knights and Titurel urge him to reveal the Grail, which he finally does. The Hall is bathed in the light of the Grail as the Knight commune by taking bread and wine. Amfortas has collapsed, and is taken out. Slowly the Hall empties leaving only the boy and Gurnemanz, who asks him if he has understood what he has seen. The boy cannot answer and is roughly ejected by Gurnemanz with a warning not to shoot swans. A voice from on high repeats the promise of redemption.
The second act begins in Klingsor’s castle, where Klingsor calls up his servant to destroy the boy who has strayed into his domain. He calls her: HellRose, Herodias, Gunddrigga and finally Kundry, transformed here into the fearsomely beautiful woman who seduced Amfortas. She wakes from her sleep and initially resists Klingsor, mocking his enforced chastity, but soon succumbs to his spell. Klingsor calls up Knights from his domain to attack the boy, but can only watch as they are slain. He sees the boy stray into his Flowermaiden garden and calls on Kundry to seek the boy out – but she has already gone.
The boy finds himself in a Garden surrounded by the beautiful and seductive Flower-maidens. They call to him and entwine themselves around him, chiding him for killing their lovers and for resisting their charms. They fight amongst themselves to win his love but are stilled when a voice calls out the boy’s name: Parsifal. Parsifal suddenly remembers that this is the name his mother used when she appeared in his dreams. The Flower-maidens fade away, calling him a fool, leaving Parsifal and Kundry alone. He wonders if this has all been a dream and asks how she knows his name. Kundry tells him that she knows his name from his Mother who had loved him and tried to protect him from his father’s fate, but who had been abandoned by him and finally died of grief. Parsifal is overcome with grief and blames himself for his mother’s death. He thinks he must be very stupid to have forgotten his mother. Kundry says that this is his first sign of understanding, and that she can help him understand his mother’s love by kissing him. Kundry’s kiss is, however, anything but maternal, and Parsifal reacts immediately by realising that this is how Amfortas was seduced – he feels the wound burn in his side, and now understands Amfortas’ passion during the Grail Ceremony. Filled with this compassion for Amfortas, Parsifal rejects Kundry.
Furious, Kundry tells Parsifal that if he can feel compassion for Amfortas, then he should feel compassion for her as well. She relates how she saw the Redeemer on the cross and laughed at Him. For this lack of compassion, she has been condemned to wander through the centuries looking for rest. Parsifal tells her that they would both be condemned for ever if he succumbed to her. Kundry again calls for his compassion, telling him that she is now the slave of the Spear-carrier. As he rejects her again, she curses him to wander without ever returning to the Kingdom of the Grail, and finally she calls on Klingsor to help her.
Klingsor appears and throws the Spear at Parsifal, but the Holy Fool catches it and destroys Klingsor and his Kingdom by making the sign of the Cross with the Spear. As he leaves, he tells Kundry that she knows where she will find him.
The Third act opens again at the Kingdom of the Grail, many years later. Gurnemanz, now aged and bent, hears a crying outside his hut and discovers Kundry unconscious. He revives her, using water from the Holy Spring, but she will only speak the word “serve” (“Dienen”). Gurnemanz wonders if there is any significance in the fact that she has reappeared on this, special, day. He then notices a figure dressed in full armour approaching. He cannot see who it is because the stranger wears a helmet, and does not speak. Finally the apparition removes its helmet and Guremanz recognises the boy who shot the swan, and then realises that the spear carried by him is the Holy Spear.
Parsifal tells of his desire to return to Amfortas. He relates his journey, wandering for years unable to find the path back to the Grail: he has often been forced to fight, but has never wielded the Spear in battle. Gurnemanz tells him that the curse preventing Parsifal from finding his right path has now been lifted, but that in his absence Amfortas has refused to reveal the Grail, and that Titurel has died. Parsifal is overcome with remorse, blaming himself for this state of affairs. Gurnemanz tells him that today is the day of Titurel’s funeral rites, and that Parsifal has a great duty to perform. Kundry washes Parsifal’s feet and Gurnemanz anoints him with water from the Holy Spring, recognising him as the pure Holy Fool, now enlightened by compassion, and as the new King of the Knights of the Grail.
Parsifal comments on the beauty of the meadow and Gurnemanz explains that today is Good Friday, when all the world is renewed. Parsifal gives his blessing to the weeping Kundry.
Once more they travel to the Hall of the Grail. Amfortas is brought before the Grail and before Titurel’s coffin. He cries out to his dead father to offer him rest from his sufferings, and wishes to join him in death. The Knights of Grail urge Amfortas angrily to reveal the Grail to them again, but Amfortas in a frenzy says he will never reveal the Grail and commands his Knights to kill him. At this moment, Parsifal arrives and says that only one weapon can perform this task: with the Spear he heals Amfortas’ wound and forgives him. He returns the Spear to the keeping of the Grail knights and once more reveals the Grail. All kneel before him and Kundry, released from her curse, sinks lifeless to the ground.
[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]
Click here for the complete libretto (English translation).
image_description=Illustration of Parsifal by Rogelio Egusquiza [Courtesy of The British Museum]
product_title=Parsifal, Bayreuth 2012 Live
product_by=Bayreuther Festspiele 2012
product_id=Above: Illustration of Parsifal by Rogelio Egusquiza [Courtesy of The British Museum]