The Story of the Opera Parsifal

Vision of the Grail Castle, based on a drawing by Franz Stassen

The opera is set in the domain and in the castle of the guardians of the Grail, Monsalvat, where the landscape resembles the northern mountains of Gothic Spain. Afterwards in Klingsor's magic castle on the southern slope of the same mountains facing Moorish Spain.
The costume of the Knights and Squires resembles that of the Templars: a white tunic and mantle; but instead of the red cross there is a dove flying upwards.

Summary of Parsifal Act 1

G urnemanz, Knight of the Grail, rises from sleep and rouses his two young esquires in a forest near the castle of Monsalvat in the Spanish Pyrenees. Two other knights arrive to prepare a morning bath for the King, Amfortas, who has an apparently incurable wound. They are interrupted by the wild woman Kundry, who has brought balsam from Arabia to alleviate the King's suffering. The King, carried in on a litter, recalls the prophecy that told him to await a pure fool made wise by compassion. He accepts Kundry's gift and proceeds to the lake. Gurnemanz tells his companions how a beautiful woman betrayed Amfortas into the hands of the magician Klingsor, so that the sacred Spear was lost and with it the King wounded.

Gurnemanz shows Parsifal the face of the dying swan, in a production by Wolfgang Wagner.

Suddenly there are cries from the lake and a swan falls to the ground, fatally injured by an arrow. The knights drag in a youth who, rebuked by Gurnemanz, breaks his bow but cannot give his name. Kundry is able to do so: the youth is Parsifal, son of Gamuret and Herzeleide. As Kundry crawls away to sleep in the undergrowth, the knights carry Amfortas back from the lake. Gurnemanz follows them with the boy, wondering what to make of him.

In the hall of the Grail Castle, Amfortas is surrounded by his knights who prepare for the Grail ritual. The voice of his father Titurel is heard from the crypt, bidding Amfortas uncover the Grail and perform the magic that sustains the aged hero. Amfortas at first refuses, as the ritual brings on his pain. At length he submits and allows the esquires to uncover the chalice, which produces food and drink to sustain the knights. Parsifal watches but seems to understand nothing; although at one point when Amfortas cries out in pain, he lays his hand on his heart. At the end of the ceremony, Gurnemanz angrily drives the boy away. As he is about to leave, the knight hears a mysterious voice repeat the words of the prophecy.

Summary of Parsifal Act 2

Klingsor's garden is found! Gardens of the Villa Ruffolo at Ravello. Inspiration for the 1882 staging of Act 2 of 'Parsifal'.

Seated in his dark tower, Klingsor summons Kundry and instructs her to seduce Parsifal, whom he has seen approaching in his magic mirror. Kundry resists in vain, since the magician knows how to control her through the curse. She disappears and the scene changes to a magic garden, in which the Flower Maidens bloom. They attempt to seduce Parsifal, who plays with them, until the appearance of Kundry, transformed into a beautiful siren. She awakens his memories of childhood and of his mother. His resistance apparently broken, she offers him a passionate kiss.

To her amazement, the youth recoils in horror. At last he understands the nature both of Amfortas' suffering and his own mission. Kundry tries to win him through pity for her, accursed since she laughed at the suffering of Christ. In desperation she calls for help from Klingsor, who appears on the rampart and hurls the spear at Parsifal.

The spear stops in the air, suspended over Parsifal's head. He grasps it and makes the sign of the cross, at which Klingsor's tower crumbles and the garden withers. You will know where to find me again, he tells Kundry as he walks away.

Summary of Parsifal Act 3

G urnemanz, now an aged hermit, once again finds the sleeping Kundry, still and apparently lifeless, in the undergrowth near his hut. As he revives her, a strange knight, in full armour and carrying a spear, approaches. Gurnemanz reproaches him for bearing arms on this most holy of days, Good Friday. Then he recognises the sacred spear and the knight as the boy who had once killed a swan. Parsifal describes his long and weary wanderings in search of Monsalvat. The hermit reveals that the Community of the Grail has long been in decay, since Amfortas refuses to uncover the chalice, and Titurel has died. Parsifal laments that he had arrived too late to save him. Kundry's baptism in Act 3 of the famous 'New Bayreuth' production of Parsifal by Wieland Wagner

G urnemanz and Kundry help him to remove his armour. Today shall Parsifal bring healing to the Grail King and take over his office and duties. Gurnemanz first baptizes Parsifal with holy water and then anoints him as King while Kundry washes his feet. In return, as the first duty in his new role, Parsifal baptises her and kisses her on her forehead. She weeps. Parsifal gazes upon the beauty of the spring meadows. The hermit tells him that this is the magic of Good Friday, when all creation gives thanks. The tolling of distant bells summon them to the funeral rites of Titurel.

In the hall of the Grail Castle, all is gloom and despair. The knights, long deprived of the divine nourishment, are barely alive and approach Amfortas threateningly. Amfortas begs them end his suffering by taking his life. Parsifal, followed by Kundry and Gurnemanz, strides into the centre of the hall and touches Amfortas' wound with the sacred spear, declaring him healed and relieved of his duties. He returns the spear, which begins to bleed. Parsifal orders that the Grail shall be uncovered and raises it aloft as the knights, including Amfortas, kneel in homage. Kundry falls dead at his feet.

Parsifal: a design for the final scene, by Alfred Roller, 1913 Above: a staging design for the final scene of Parsifal. Alfred Roller, 1913. From the collection of Theatermuseum Wien.

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