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PARSIFAL (Premiere), Vienna State Opera, 01 April 2021

Event details

  • Category: Operas
  • Event: PARSIFAL (Premiere)
  • Date/Time: 01 April 2021
  • Venue: Vienna State Opera
  • Address: Opernring 2, 1010 Wien / Vienna (Map)
  • Other Dates: Show alternatives


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The plot of the play takes place during the Christian reconquest on the Arab-occupied Spanish peninsula. The opening scene shows the band of men, or Knights of the Holy Grail, which has become susceptible to crisis. It has been witnessed, time and time again, that knights have deserted their posts only to join the kingdom of the sorcerer Klingsor, who has emasculated himself in his striving for sexual abstinence and was rejected previously by the circle of knights. Through his castration, Klingsor now has the power to dominate women. He uses the power of these maidens to leer and bring the all-faithful band of Christian knights to their death. He was even capable of enticing the King of the Grail, Amfortas, to make a mistake by stealing his holy spear and inflicting an incurable wound – the aftermath of which has Amfortas wailing of the ordeal that the ritual unveiling of the Grail has become, which he only carries out dutifully upon being pressured by his father, who is "living in the grave", and which he then wholly refuses to perform upon the latter's death. However, only a destined “pure fool” could undo the sins of the Grail King and reverse its devastating consequences. A decisive role in this work of redemption is played by an enigmatic woman who travels under different identities both in the territory of the Holy Grail’s Castle and in Klingsor's enchanted castle.
Wagner's last magnificent opera brings together the problems with which the poet-composer's entire oeuvre confronts the audience: Avant-garde and romanticism, combined with the dissolution of boundaries and ideology, intertwine almost indissolubly. The genre name of "Bühnenweihfestspiel” (Wagner’s own description of his last work, which means sacred festival drama) refers to the claim of an art religion. For 30 yeas until the copyright expired, the performance was reserved for the Bayreuth Festival, where theatre is staged as a ritual. In the haze of the festival theatreracist world views flourished, hinting at the purity ideology of Parsifal, suggesting that it was an anti-Semitic play to inspire a “people”.
However, it is not the politically compromised romantic messages of salvation that force us to examine Parsifal critically, but the aesthetic new iteration of the brilliant musical drama, which suggests the notion of: “We dismiss romantic magic. What remains, now that magic has failed? The style, the technique, the spirit. Not the spirit of 'pure folly', but the spirit of art,” wrote the music author August Halm in 1916. Of course, his voice, one of the few prudent ones, could not prevent the National Socialist abuse that was being committed with the work. But it indirectly referred to the pioneers of an emphatical modernity who took up the legitimate, namely creative legacy of the Parsifal music: the Frenchman Debussy, whose soundscape seems to have been anticipated in the flower girl scene of the second act, and the Austrian Jews Mahler and Schönberg. For Mahler's work, the solemnly striding metamorphic music of the first and third acts, in connection with their bell motifs, became a decisive influence, while the prelude to the third act, in which Wagner touches on atonality, anticipates Schönberg's style.
The not only temporal break between the first two acts and the third act led director Kirill Serebrennikov, who is also his own stage and costume designer, to have the story of the matured Parsifal told in a flashback, as it were, which leads us through the events of the first two acts until we arrive in the presence of the narrator in the third act. Serebrennikov associates the dysfunctional male world of the Grail Society with the topography of a prison complex, or more precisely a “maison centrale”, a French type of prison, into which the so-called hopeless, often members of ethnic or religious minorities, are interned and left to fend for themselves. There, the juvenile delinquent Parsifal is confronted with a ritual of initiation, in the course of which violence and ecstasy are closely related. In this completely impervious man's world, the only woman to make her appearance is the erratic figure of the messenger Kundry - in the case of Serebrennikov, a journalist driven by her interest in the structures of violence, as shaped by such a maison centrale. In doing so, she operates in a grey zone in which she also functions as an accomplice of the detainees.
At the podium is Philippe Jordan, the musical director of the opera, who will conduct Wagner's seminal late work for the first time in Vienna. In almost all of the roles, debuts of important guests in Vienna can be experienced: Ludovic Tézier as Amfortas, Georg Zeppenfeld as Gurnemanz and Wolfgang Koch as Klingsor. Elīna Garanča, former ensemble member and a world star today, makes her worldwide role debut as Kundry alongside Jonas Kaufmann.

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