MUNICH — (MunichNOW News) — On 28 July, 1882 at the Second Bayreuth Festival in the specially designed Festspielhaus, Richard Wagner’s last, and some might say worst, opera “Parsifal” opened. Though it did not “bang” on for sixteen hours like Wagner’s Ring Cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Götterdamerung), which Mark Twain was subjected to, and complained about, in his hilarious “A Tramp Abroad”, Parsifal does clock in at over four and a half hours.
Unfortunately, this is also how long it takes an NCAA football game to reach its conclusion with only sixty minutes of clocked time. Wagner’s opera only has two intermissions, without any ads, so there is also that.
Like many of Wagner’s operas, Parsifal was based on characters from German mythology or myth. The original Parzival was a romantic poem written in the first quarter of the 13th century by Wolfram von Eschenbach who was also a knight. In the story, Parzival (Percival) was an Arthurian Knight who was on a quest to seek the Holy Grail. Thankfully, he was unsuccessful. Just think, had Parzival been successful we wouldn’t have been blessed with the massive character (and knight!) of Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, certainly the best work of that franchise.
In both the epic poem and opera, the men have “man cards” and do many manly things, and the women, or damsels if you will, get to be rescued by those guys in the heavy, shiny suits. Simpler times, those. In the original poem, there is a nice passage on Sir Gawain, he of the “I refuse to sleep with the beautiful and alluring Lady Bertilak” when Lord Bertilak (the Green Knight) is out on a hunt. Yes, I’m pretty sure chivalry is dead in 2018.
Parzival’s progeny was no other than another knight with the name of Lohengrin. Unsurprisingly, it also was another character for a Wagnerian opera, which was the favorite opera of Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s friend August “Gustl” Kubizek wrote that when Lohengrin was playing in Linz or Vienna it was impossible to get Hitler to see anything else, including new operas from other composers, and Gustl said that they must have seen Lohengrin no fewer than 50 times. Also, Ludwig II named his fairy tale castle Neuschwanstein, after the Swan Knight in Lohengrin. It was Ludwig’s money which financed the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, designed and built by Wagner specifically for his operas.
Clearly, there is something about Wagnerian operas which makes men insane. Perhaps Twain was on to something.
Parsifal is playing in the sold out Bayersiche Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera) on 31 July 2018, running a total of five hours and fifteen minutes with two forty minutes breaks to stretch your legs, drink a bottle of scotch (American bourbon has extra duties these days) and regain your sanity. It will also return for three shows in March of 2019.