Wagner – Parsifal Opera + Presentation (recording of the Century : Hans Knappertsbusch 1962)

The scenic festival of the Ring of the Nibelung, for which Wagner had the festival theatre built, and the solemn stage play of Parsifal, composed especially for this theatre, are the two true works of the festival and form the core of the Bayreuth Festival. Parsifal and his unconditional demand for the spiritual in dramatic art represents Wagner’s most radical attempt to give a humanitarian basis to his secularized and materialistic age. To selfishness, the guarantor of success, he contrasted the humanitarian idea of compassion with that of action which results from the awareness of man’s moral responsibility. Wagner gave Parsifal the title of Bühnenweihfestspiel (stage play of solemn celebration). In his poetic and artistic sense, the term celebration has for him the meaning of an elevation of consciousness from an ordinary and trivial state to a higher and spiritual level. Wagner took the term out of its original sphere, where it had a religious and narrow meaning, and transferred it to that of absolute humanism. Applied to the field of theatrical directing, this term was not synonymous with a sacred action for Wagner, but rather expressed a particular disposition of mind, allowing a specific stylistic principle to be attained. In no way did Wagner intend to give this term the meaning of “religious theater” or “religion in the theater”. He always strictly differentiated between the two aspects. The task of the theatre is to give a performance that offers the spectator the possibility of a achieving awareness. Religion, on the other hand, consists in bringing people to faith by announcing its revealed truths. Both religion and theatre, however, have a common goal, namely to take care of the ethical education of men so that they understand the moral sense of the world order. Wagner’s critical philosophy is based on the observation that the absence of love is the real evil of the world. Wagner’s critical philosophy is based on the observation that the absence of love is the real evil of the world. It is compassion that must bring about this awareness – compassionate love for others – and it is this compassionate love that can alleviate the suffering of others. Compassion, as Wagner understands it, is based on mutual understanding and free social relations that are determined neither by power and domination nor by slavery. With Parsifal, Wagner tries to give the lyrical theatre of his time, which was devoted to entertainment, a dignity and expressive force comparable to that of the ancient Greek theatre. Mozart’s Magic Flute, with its ethical ideal, and, in the symphonic field, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, are the last masterpieces of this traditional European chain. According to Wagner, the idea of redemption belongs to all the great religions of the world. For him, the significance of Parsifal lies in the conflict between the principle of Good, represented by the Grail world and its king Titurel, and the principle of Evil, represented by the sorcerer Klingsor, who is trying to establish his own power over the Grail. Wagner uses a dramatic model used in medieval and baroque morality, which associated the struggle between Good and Evil with the struggle between Virtue and Vice. The fight is made exemplary through the hero’s encounter with a beautiful and attractive woman, whom he must resist if he is to acquire the awareness of Good and Virtue. This iconographic model of morality is also part of the sets. On the one hand, the Christian castle of the Holy Grail, located in a place difficult to access in the north of Gothic Spain, and on the other hand, the enchanted garden of Klingsor, with its tropical vegetation, located on the southern slope of the mountain; a garden facing the warm, pagan and Arabic Spain. Innocent and free nature, the Grail Forest and the Good Friday meadow are placed outside the opposite poles of good and evil. Since the Romantic period, Nature and landscape have always been considered as one of the forms through which the divine revealed itself. This fact also appears in the scene where the flowers of the enchanted garden, after having smiled a seductive smile at Parsifal and then fading away, are finally delivered from evil on the Good Friday meadow. Parsifal is also the education novel of the eponymous hero. In the beginning, he is the “chaste fol” (Der reine Tor), while also being a silly being with a wobbly gait. He is not yet conscious. He obtains this consciousness by kissing Kundry, because his kiss makes him a “worldly clairvoyant” being and his own experience of suffering makes him capable of compassion. He has to walk “on the path of error and suffering” until he finds the way to the Grail and can bring redemption through his compassionate accents to Kundry, Amfortas and the Grail world. The Kundry character is certainly one of Wagner’s major creations. He had a clear vision of the subject only after he understood that the wild Grail messenger and the seductress of the second act were one and the same person. Because of her curse — without mercy, she had mocked the suffering Christ — Kundry must suffer the sufferings of all mankind, just like Ahasver, the wandering Jew. She expresses her feelings through savage affliction and mockery. She is nameless because she has all the names: Rose from hell, Herodias, Gundryggia. Although she promised Parsifal “divinity” and “knowledge”, just like the serpent of the Paradise; the hero resists her and thus frees her from her curse. He sympathizes with her and proceeds with her baptism. Kundry is not doomed to eternal damnation like the devils of morality. She enters the Grail, thus reconciling the principle of the eternal feminine that she symbolizes. END

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