Parsifal

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Synopsis

Place: Near the seat of the Grail

 

Act I

In a forest near the home of the Grail and its Knights, Gurnemanz, eldest Knight of the Grail, wakes his young squires and leads them in prayer. He sees Amfortas, King of the Grail Knights, and his entourage approaching. Amfortas has been injured by his own Holy Spear, and the wound will not heal.

Vorspiel

Musical introduction to the work with a duration of c. 9–13 minutes.

Scene 1

Gurnemanz asks the lead Knight for news of the King's health. The Knight says the King has suffered during the night and is going early to bathe in the holy lake. The squires ask Gurnemanz to explain how the King's injury can be healed, but he evades their question and a wild woman – Kundry – bursts in. She gives Gurnemanz a vial of balsam, brought from Arabia, to ease the King's pain and then collapses, exhausted.

Amfortas arrives, borne on a stretcher by Knights of the Grail. He calls out for Gawain, whose attempt at relieving the King's pain had failed. He is told that Gawain has left again, seeking a better remedy. Raising himself somewhat, the King says going off without leave ("Ohn' Urlaub?") is the sort of impulsiveness which led himself into Klingsor's realm and to his downfall. He accepts the potion from Gurnemanz and tries to thank Kundry, but she answers abruptly that thanks will not help and urges him onward to his bath.

The procession leaves. The squires eye Kundry with mistrust and question her. After a brief retort, she falls silent. Gurnemanz tells them Kundry has often helped the Grail Knights but that she comes and goes unpredictably. When he asks directly why she does not stay to help, she answers, "I never help! ("Ich helfe nie!"). The squires think she is a witch and sneer that if she does so much, why will she not find the Holy Spear for them? Gurnemanz reveals that this deed is destined for someone else. He says Amfortas was given guardianship of the Spear, but lost it as he was seduced by an irresistibly attractive woman in Klingsor's domain. Klingsor grabbed the Spear and stabbed Amfortas. The wound causes Amfortas both suffering and shame, and will never heal on its own.

Squires returning from the King's bath tell Gurnemanz that the balsam has eased the King's suffering. Gurnemanz's own squires ask how it is that he knew Klingsor. He solemnly tells them how both the Holy Spear, which pierced the side of the Redeemer on the Cross, and the Holy Grail, which caught the flowing blood, had come to Monsalvat to be guarded by the Knights of the Grail under the rule of Titurel, father of Amfortas. Klingsor had yearned to join the Knights but, unable to keep impure thoughts from his mind, resorted to self-castration, causing him to be expelled from the Order. Klingsor then set himself up in opposition to the realm of the Grail, learning dark arts, claiming the valley domain below and filling it with beautiful Flowermaidens to seduce and enthrall wayward Grail Knights. It was here that Amfortas lost the Holy Spear, kept by Klingsor as he schemes to get hold of the Grail as well. Gurnemanz tells how Amfortas later had a holy vision which told him to wait for a "pure fool, enlightened by compassion" ("Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor") who will finally heal the wound.

At this moment, cries are heard from the Knights ("Weh! Weh!"): a flying swan has been shot, and a young man is brought forth, a bow in his hand and a quiver of matching arrows. Gurnemanz speaks sternly to the lad, saying this is a holy place. He asks him outright if he shot the swan, and the lad boasts that if it flies, he can hit it ("Im Fluge treff' ich was fliegt!") Gurnemanz tells him that the swan is a holy animal, and asks what harm the swan had done him, and shows the youth its lifeless body. Now remorseful, the young man breaks his bow and casts it aside. Gurnemanz asks him why he is here, who his father is, how he found this place and, lastly, his name. To each question the lad replies, "I don't know." The elder Knight sends his squires away to help the King and now asks the boy to tell what he does know. The young man says he has a mother, Herzeleide (Heart's Sorrow) and that he made the bow himself. Kundry has been listening and now tells them that this boy's father was Gamuret, a knight killed in battle, and also how the lad's mother had forbidden her son to use a sword, fearing that he would meet the same fate as his father. The youth now recalls that upon seeing knights pass through his forest, he had left his home and mother to follow them. Kundry laughs and tells the young man that, as she rode by, she saw Herzeleide die of grief. Hearing this, the lad first lunges at Kundry but then collapses in grief. Kundry herself is now weary for sleep, but cries out that she must not sleep and wishes that she might never again waken. She disappears into the undergrowth.

Gurnemanz knows that the Grail draws only the pious to Monsalvat and invites the boy to observe the Grail rite. The youth does not know what the Grail is, but remarks that as they walk he seems to scarcely move, yet feels as if he is traveling far. Gurnemanz says that in this realm time becomes space ("Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit").

Verwandlungsmusik (Transformation)

An orchestral interlude of about 4 minutes.

Scene 2

They arrive at the Hall of the Grail, where the Knights are assembling to receive Holy Communion ("Zum letzten Liebesmahle"). The voice of Titurel is heard, telling his son, Amfortas, to uncover the Grail. Amfortas is wracked with shame and suffering ("Wehvolles Erbe, dem ich verfallen"). He is the guardian of these holy relics yet has succumbed to temptation and lost the Spear. He declares himself unworthy of his office. He cries out for forgiveness ("Erbarmen!") but hears only the promise that he will one day be redeemed by the pure fool.

On hearing Amfortas' cry, the youth appears to suffer with him, clutching at his heart. The knights and Titurel urge Amfortas to reveal the Grail ("Enthüllet den Gral"), and he finally does. The dark hall is now bathed in the light of the Grail as the Knights eat. Gurnemanz motions to the youth to participate, but he seems entranced and does not. Amfortas does not share in taking communion and, as the ceremony ends, collapses in pain and is carried away. Slowly the hall empties leaving only the young man and Gurnemanz, who asks him if he has understood what he has seen. When the lad cannot answer, Gurnemanz dismisses him as just a fool and sends him out with a warning to hunt geese, if he must, but to leave the swans alone. A voice from high above repeats the promise: "The pure fool, enlightened by compassion".

 

Act II

Vorspiel

Musical introduction of c. 2–3 minutes.

Scene 1

Klingsor's magic castle. Klingsor conjures up Kundry, waking her from her sleep. He calls her by many names: First Sorceress (Urteufelin), Hell's Rose (Höllenrose), Herodias, Gundryggia and, lastly, Kundry. She is now transformed into an incredibly alluring woman, as when she once seduced Amfortas. She mocks Klingsor's mutilated condition by sarcastically inquiring if he is chaste ("Ha ha! Bist du keusch?"), but she cannot resist his power. Klingsor observes that Parsifal is approaching and summons his enchanted knights to fight the boy. Klingsor watches as Parsifal overcomes his knights, and they flee. Klingsor wishes destruction on their whole race.

Klingsor sees this young man stray into his Flowermaiden garden and calls to Kundry to seek the boy out and seduce him, but when he turns, he sees that Kundry has already left on her mission.

Scene 2

The triumphant youth finds himself in a wondrous garden, surrounded by beautiful and seductive Flowermaidens. They call to him and entwine themselves about him while chiding him for wounding their lovers ("Komm, komm, holder Knabe!"). They soon fight and bicker among themselves to win his devotion, to the point that he is about to flee, but then a voice calls out, "Parsifal!" He now recalls this name is what his mother called him when she appeared in his dreams. The Flowermaidens back away from him and call him a fool as they leave him and Kundry alone.

Parsifal wonders if the Garden is a dream and asks how it is that Kundry knows his name. Kundry tells him she learned it from his mother ("Ich sah das Kind an seiner Mutter Brust"), who had loved him and tried to shield him from his father's fate, the mother he had abandoned and who had finally died of grief. She reveals many parts of Parsifal's history to him and he is stricken with remorse, blaming himself for his mother's death. He thinks himself very stupid to have forgotten her. Kundry says this realization is a first sign of understanding and that, with a kiss, she can help him understand his mother's love. As they kiss Parsifal suddenly recoils in pain and cries out Amfortas' name: he feels the wounded king's pain burning in his own side and now understands Amfortas' passion during the Grail Ceremony ("Amfortas! Die Wunde! Die Wunde!"). Filled with this compassion, Parsifal rejects Kundry's advances.

Furious that her ploy has failed, Kundry tells Parsifal that if he can feel compassion for Amfortas, then he should be able to feel it for her as well. She has been cursed for centuries, unable to rest, because she saw Christ on the cross and laughed at His pains. Now she can never weep, only jeer, and she is enslaved to Klingsor as well. Parsifal rejects her again but then asks her to lead him to Amfortas. She begs him to stay with her for just one hour, and then she will take him to Amfortas. When he still refuses, she curses him to wander without ever finding the Kingdom of the Grail, and finally calls on her master Klingsor to help her.

Klingsor appears and throws the Spear at Parsifal, but it stops in midair, above his head. Parsifal takes it and makes the sign of the Cross with it. The castle crumbles and the enchanted garden withers. As Parsifal leaves, he tells Kundry that she knows where she can find him.

 

Act III

Vorspiel

Musical introduction of c. 4–6 minutes.

Scene 1

The scene is the same as that of the opening of the opera, in the domain of the Grail, but many years later. Gurnemanz is now aged and bent. It is Good Friday. He hears moaning near his hermit's hut and discovers Kundry unconscious in the brush, as he had many years before ("Sie! Wieder da!"). 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 to her reappearance on this special day. Looking into the forest, he sees a figure approaching, armed and in full armour. The stranger wears a helmet and the hermit cannot see who it is. Gurnemanz queries him and chides him for being armed on sanctified ground and on a holy day, but gets no response. Finally, the apparition removes the helmet and Gurnemanz recognizes the lad who shot the swan, and joyfully sees that he bears the Holy Spear.

Parsifal tells of his desire to return to Amfortas ("Zu ihm, des tiefe Klagen"). He relates his long journey, how he wandered for years, unable to find a path back to the Grail. He had often been forced to fight, but 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 never unveiled the Grail, and lack of its sustaining properties has caused the death of Titurel. Parsifal is overcome with remorse, blaming himself for this state of affairs. Gurnemanz tells him that today is the day of Titurel's funeral, and that Parsifal has a great duty to perform. Kundry washes Parsifal's feet and Gurnemanz anoints him with water from the Holy Spring, recognizing him as the pure fool, now enlightened by compassion, and as the new King of the Knights of the Grail.

Parsifal looks about and comments on the beauty of the meadow. Gurnemanz explains that today is Good Friday, when all the world is renewed. Parsifal baptizes the weeping Kundry. Tolling bells are heard in the distance. Gurnemanz says "Midday: the hour has come. My lord, permit your servant to guide you!" ("Mittag: – Die Stund ist da: gestatte Herr, dass dich dein Knecht geleite") – and all three set off for the castle of the Grail. A dark orchestral interlude ("Mittag") leads into the solemn gathering of the knights.

Scene 2

Within the castle of the Grail, Amfortas is brought before the Grail shrine and Titurel's coffin. He cries out, asking his dead father to grant him rest from his sufferings and expresses the desire to join him in death ("Mein Vater! Hochgesegneter der Helden!"). The Knights of the Grail passionately urge Amfortas to uncover the Grail again but Amfortas, in a frenzy, says he will never again show the Grail. He commands the Knights, instead, to kill him and end his suffering and the shame he has brought on the Knighthood. At this moment, Parsifal steps forth and says that only one weapon can heal the wound ("Nur eine Waffe taugt"). He touches Amfortas' side with the Spear and both heals and absolves him. Parsifal commands the unveiling of the Grail. As all present kneel, Kundry, released from her curse, sinks lifeless to the ground as a white dove descends and hovers above Parsifal.

Program and cast

Performers


Parsifal: Mikhail Vekua
Kundry: Anna Markarova
Gurnemanz: Yuri Vorobiev
Amfortas: Alexei Markov
Klingsor: Yevgeny Nikitin
Titurel: Gleb Periazev


Credits


Music by Richard Wagner
Libretto by the composer


Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Staged by Tony Palmer (1997)
Revival Stage Director: Marina Mishuk (2003)
Set Designer: Yevgeny Lysyk
Set Designer Adaptation: Andrei Voitenko
Costume Designer: Nadezhda Pavlova
Lighting Designer: Vladimir Lukasevich
Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko
Children’s Chorus Master: Irina Yatsemirskaya

Mariinsky Theatre

For more than two centuries the Mariinsky Theatre has been presenting the world with a plethora of great artistes: the outstanding bass and founding father of the Russian operatic performing school Osip Petrov served here; this is where such great singers as Fyodor Chaliapin, Ivan Yershov, Medea and Nikolai Figner and Sofia Preobrazhenskaya honed their skills and rose to glory. Ballet dancers reigned supreme on this stage, among them Mathilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. This is where George Balanchine set out on the road to art. This theatre has witnessed the dawn of the talents of such brilliant theatre decorators as Konstantin Korovin, Alexander Golovin, Alexandre Benois, Simon Virsaladze and Fyodor Fyodorovsky among countless others.

 

The Mariinsky Theatre can trace its history as far back as 1783, when a Decree on the establishment of a theatre committee “for performances and music” was published on 12 July and the Bolshoi Stone Theatre was opened on Carousel Square amid great pomp on 5 October. The theatre gave the square its new name – even today it is known as Theatre Square.
 

Built according to plans by Antonio Rinaldi, the Bolshoi Theatre staggered the public with the sheer scale of its dimensions, its majestic architecture and its stage, equipped with the most up-to-date theatre equipment and machinery. Giovanni Paisiello’s opera Il mondo della luna was performed at the opening. The Russian Opera Company performed here in turn with the Italian and French Companies, and there were also plays and concerts of vocal and instrumental music.
 

St Petersburg was expanding and its image changed constantly. In 1802-1803 Thomas de Thomon – a brilliant architect and draughtsman – undertook the capital reconstruction of the interior layout and decor of the theatre, noticeably altering its external appearance and proportions. The new, grand and majestic Bolshoi Theatre became one of the architectural attractions of the capital city on the River Neva along with the Admiralty, the Stock Exchange and Kazan Cathedral. But on the night of 1 January 1811 there was a tremendous fire at the Bolshoi Theatre. In two days, the rich interior was lost and the façade was seriously damaged by the fire. Thomas de Thomon, who worked on the reconstruction plans of his darling project, did not live to see it come to fruition. On 3 February 1818 the restored Bolshoi Theatre opened once again with the prologue Apollo and Pallas in the North and Charles Didelot’s ballet Flore et Zéphire to music by the composer Caterino Cavos.
 

We are coming to the “golden age” of the Bolshoi Theatre. The repertoire of the “post-fire” era included Mozart’sDie Zauberflöte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail and La clemenza di Tito. Russian audiences were captivated by Rossini’sLa Cenerentola, Semiramida, La gazza ladra and Il barbiere di Siviglia. In May 1824 came the premiere of Weber’sDer Freischütz – a work that exerted a great influence on the birth of Russian romantic opera. There were the musical comedies of Alyabyev and Verstovsky; one of the favourite repertoire operas was Cavos’ Ivan Susanin, which was performed right up until the appearance of Glinka’s opera on the same theme. The legendary Charles Didelot is linked with the birth of the international glory of Russian ballet. It was during these years that Pushkin, who immortalised the theatre in his ageless poetry, was a regular visitor to the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg.
 

In 1836, to improve the acoustics the architect Alberto Cavos – son of the composer and conductor – replaced the cupola ceiling of the auditorium with a flat one, above which he housed an artistic workshop and a hall for decorating the sets. Alberto Cavos removed the columns from the auditorium as they interfered with the view and distorted the acoustics; he also gave the auditorium its traditional horse-shoe shape and increased its length and height to seat up to two thousand people.
 

On 27 November 1836, with the first performance of Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar the reconstructed theatre opened once again. Perhaps by chance and perhaps by design, the premiere of Ruslan and Lyudmila – Glinka’s second opera – was held there exactly six years later, on 27 November 1842. These two dates would be enough to ensure that St Petersburg’s Bolshoi Theatre had earned its place forever in the history of Russian culture. But of course there were also performances of masterpieces of European music – operas by Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Auber and Thomas...
 

In time, performances by the Russian Opera Company were transferred to the Alexandrinsky Theatre and the so-called Circus Theatre, which was located opposite the Bolshoi (where the Ballet Company and the Italian Opera Company continued to perform).
 

When, in 1859, the Circus Theatre was destroyed by fire, a new theatre was built on the same site, once again by Alberto Cavos. It was named the Mariinsky in honour of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Alexander II. The first theatre season in the new building opened on 2 October 1860 with Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar under the baton of the Russian Opera Company’s conductor Konstantin Lyadov, father of the renowned composer Anatoly Lyadov.
 

The Mariinsky Theatre secured and developed the great traditions of Russia’s first musical theatre. With the arrival in 1863 of Eduard Nápravník, who replaced Konstantin Lyadov as Principal Conductor, a new and glorious era in the theatre’s history began. The half century Nápravník dedicated to the Mariinsky Theatre stands out for the premieres of the most important operas in the history of Russian music. We will mention just a few – Musorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Maid of Pskov, May Night and The Snow Maiden, Borodin’s Prince Igor, Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans, The Enchantress, The Queen of Spades and Iolanta, Rubinstein’s The Demon, Taneyev’s Orest… In the early 20thcentury, the theatre’s repertoire included operas by Wagner (among them the tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen), Richard Strauss’ Elektra, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevronia and Musorgsky’sKhovanshchina…

Marius Petipa, who became Director of the Ballet Company in 1869, continued the traditions of his predecessors – Jules Perrot and Arthur Saint-Léon. Petipa jealously preserved classical works such as Giselle, La Esmeralda and Le Corsaire, subjecting them only to careful revisions. His production of La Bayadère brought scope and range of choreographic composition to the ballet stage for the first time, where “dance became assimilated to music.”
 

Petipa’s lucky meeting with Tchaikovsky, who stated that “ballet is also a symphony”, resulted in the creation ofThe Sleeping Beauty – a veritable poem in music and choreography. Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s collaboration produced the choreography for The Nutcracker. After Tchaikovsky’s death, Swan Lake took on a second life at the Mariinsky Theatre – and again with choreography by both Petipa and Ivanov. Petipa cemented his reputation as a symphonist choreographer with his production of Glazunov’s ballet Raymonda. His innovative ideas were seized upon by the young Michel Fokine, who staged Tcherepnin’s Le Pavillon d’Armide, Saint-Saëns’ The Dying Swan and Chopiniana to music by Chopin at the Mariinsky Theatre as well as ballets created in Paris – Schéhérazade to music by Rimsky-Korsakov andThe Firebird and Pétrouchka by Stravinsky.
 

The Mariinsky Theatre has undergone several reconstructions. In 1885, when most productions had been transferred to the Mariinsky Theatre prior to the close of the Bolshoi, the principal architect of the Imperial Theatres Viktor Schröter added a three-storey wing to the left of the building for theatre workshops, rehearsal rooms, an electricity substation and boiler room. In 1894 under Schröter’s supervision, the wooden rafters were replaced with steel and concrete, the side wings extended and the audience foyers enlarged. The main façade, too, was subject to reconstruction, taking on monumental forms.
 

In 1886 ballets, which had until then continued to be performed at the Bolshoi Theatre, were transferred to the Mariinsky Theatre. The building of the St Petersburg Conservatoire was built on the site of the Bolshoi Theatre.
 

A government decree of 9 November 1917 made the Mariinsky Theatre the property of the State and it was transferred to the People’s Enlightenment Commissariat. In 1920 it began to be called the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (GATOB), and in 1935 it was named after Sergei Mironovich Kirov. Along with classics from the previous century, in the 20s and early 30s contemporary operas began to be staged at the theatre – among them Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier; and ballets were mounted that reinforced the new choreographic trend that had been popular for decades, the so called “drama-ballet” – Reinhold Glière’s The Red Poppy, Boris Asafiev’s Flames of Paris and The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, Alexander Krein’s Laurencia and Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet among others.
 

The last pre-WWII opera premiere at the Kirov Theatre was Wagner’s Lohengrin, the second performance of which ended late in the evening on 21 June 1941, though the performances announced for 24 and 27 June were replaced by Ivan Susanin. During World War II the theatre was evacuated to Perm, where there were premieres of several works including Aram Khachaturian’s ballet Gayaneh. On returning to Leningrad, the theatre opened the season on 1 September 1944 with Glinka’s opera Ivan Susanin.
 

In the 50s-70s such famed ballets as Farid Yarullin’s Shurale, Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus and Boris Tishchenko’s Twelve with choreography by Leonid Yakobson, Sergei Prokofiev’s The Stone Flower and Arif Melikov’s The Legend of Love with choreography by Yuri Grigorovich and Dmitry Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony with choreography by Igor Belsky were staged at the theatre, and along with productions of these new ballets the theatre diligently cared for its classical legacy. The opera repertoire was enriched with works by Prokofiev, Dzerzhinsky, Shaporin and Khrennikov alongside operas by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Musorgsky, Verdi and Bizet.
 

Between 1968 and 1970 the theatre underwent a major reconstruction in line with designs by Salomeya Gelfer, as a result of which the left wing of the building was “stretched out” and took on the form it has today.
 

An important stage in the theatre’s history came in the 1980s with productions of Tchaikovsky’s operas Eugene Oneginand The Queen of Spades, staged by Yuri Temirkanov, the theatre’s Director from 1976. These productions, still in the theatre’s repertoire today, saw the emergence of a new generation of performers.
 

In 1988 Valery Gergiev was appointed Principal Conductor of the theatre. On 16 January 1992 the theatre’s historic name was restored and it became the Mariinsky Theatre once again. And in 2006 the company and the orchestra were presented with the Concert Hall at 20 Pisareva’ Street, built on the initiative of Valery Gergiev, Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

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