Synopsis: „Parsifal“

Parsifal: Christian Gerhaher (Amfortas), Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper

Background 

The knights Titurel and Gurnemanz have founded an Order of the Grail together, in order to protect the Grail and the Spear; the chalice from the Last Supper, in which the blood of the crucified Jesus Christ was collected, and the Spear with which a Roman soldier pierced his side on the cross. Those who are called to protect these must take a solemn vow of celibacy. Klingsor, another knight, wished to join the Order, but was unable to keep his vow and castrated himself. However, Titurel would still not accept him into the Order. Thereupon, Klingsor built his own kingdom of temptresses, who shall seduce the puritanical knights and consequently diminish the power of the Order of the Grail. Titurel hands his crown to his son Amfortas, and the new King of the Grail desires the destruction of Klingsor’s empire. As Amfortas manages to make his way, armed with the Holy Spear, to Klingsor’s castle, he is met by Kundry, who then seduces him. This mystical creature once laughed at Christ on his way to the crucifixion, and now, in order to atone for her sin, wanders restlessly through countless lives, as a helpful servant, in the hope of meeting her redeemer. And yet, she is Klingsor’s most effective way of seducing the Knights of the Grail. Thanks to her, the Spear is now in Klingsor’s hands, and he has inflicted upon Amfortas a wound that does not to heal. 

First Act 

Gurnemanz, together with other knights and squires, awaits the ailing Amfortas so that he may prepare a bath for him to relieve his pain. Instead, Amfortas receives some balsam from Kundry, knowing full well that this will also only alleviate the pain for a short while. Y Z The squires attempt to attack Kundry, but Gurnemanz holds them back, telling them the story of the first King of the Grail, Titurel, and his son Amfortas. He knows, of course, that Amfortas’s wound can only be healed when a pure fool, enlightened by compassion, touches it with the Spear. The peace in the forest is disturbed when a swan, a sacred animal, is shot in flight, yet the marksman feels no remorse. When confronted by his actions, it becomes clear that he knows neither his name nor his origins. Only the name of his mother, whom he left, is known: Herzeleide. Kundry, who has been listening in, knows about his past and tells him bluntly that his mother is dead, causing the young knight to try and kill her. Gurnemanz calms him down; he believes that this youngster may be the promised, compassionate fool. Full of hope, he leads him to the Knights of the Grail. Amfortas curses Titurel’s request to finally reveal the grail. Should this happen, the Knights would be recuperated by the power of the Grail. For Amfortas, however, such a move would mean continued excruciating pain. Ultimately, the ruling King of the Grail backs down. The unknown youngster follows the ceremony, but his immaturity ensures that he is unable to show any compassion. Feeling cheated by the young knight, the disappointed Gurnemanz sends him away. 

Second Act 

Klingsor senses danger within the youngster and wants Kundry to kill him. As he wakes her from a deathlike sleep, she utters a wretched scream. After seductive temptresses threateningly surround the errant youngster, Kundry addresses him by his real name: Parsifal. She tells him of his mother, who died after her son had left her. Parsifal, now stricken with remorse, is comforted by Kundry, who explains that he must first get to know the meaning of love before he may grow and leave his guilt behind. She kisses him. Parsifal now realises what his mission is. He must recapture the Spear, use it to close Amfortas’s wound and liberate the Order from its sorrows. Kundry also sees her redeemer in Parsifal. But, as Parsifal rejects her advances, she calls Klingsor in desperation. He throws the Spear at Parsifal, but the youngster is able to avert the danger and retrieve the Spear. He leaves Klingsor’s kingdom before it collapses. 

Third Act 

Gurnemanz, now living alone and abandoned in the forest, discovers Kundry, almost unable to speak and wishing only to serve. A knight approaches the two. Gurnemanz recognises the youngster he once banished, and, him being dressed in armour and carrying the Spear, realises that the chosen one stands before him. He tells Parsifal of the hopeless situation regarding the Kingdom of the Grail, and that Titurel has died due to Amfortas’s refusal to reveal the Grail. Kundry washes Parsifal’s feet, while Gurnemanz addresses him as the new King and, as such, performs his first royal duty by baptising Kundry. It is Good Friday, and everyone is enjoying the beauty and purity of nature before setting off for Titurel’s wake. In honour of his deceased father, Amfortas steadfastly refuses to reveal the Grail. Parsifal steps forth and, as the new crowned King of the Grail, stands before the Order and releases Amfortas from his suffering.