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Richard Wagner’s final opera, Parsifal, is featured on this Maundy Thursday's expanded edition of the WCPE Opera House. The vessel that was used to serve the wine at Jesus Christ’s Last Supper has been one of the supposed subjects of Holy Grail literature in Christian mythology. The quest for the Holy Grail makes up an important segment of the Arthurian cycle, combining Christian lore with a Celtic myth of a cauldron endowed with special powers. The early Grail romances centered on Percival, who—in the hands of Wagner—evolved into Parsifal. Parsifal was described by Wagner as a Bühnenweihfestspiel (stage consecration festival play).
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Many years earlier, the vessel of the Holy Grail was given into the keeping of Titurel (bass Jan-Hendrik Rootering) and his Christian knights, as was the Sacred Spear that pierced the side of Jesus during His crucifixion. These relics have been guarded in a fortified castle at Montsalvat, a beacon of Christianity in Islamic Spain. Nearby lives the evil sorcerer Klingsor (bass Ekkehard Wlaschiha) and the beautiful enchantress Kundry (soprano Jessye Norman), enemies of the knights. When Titurel grew old, he handed over the Kingdom of the Grail to his son Amfortas (bass-baritone James Morris), who—determined to kill Klingsor—entered his enemy’s magic garden. There, he fell prey to Kundry’s charms and lost the Sacred Spear to Klingsor. Badly wounded by the spear, Amfortas continues to suffer: only the touch of the Sacred Spear will close the gash it made.
A prophecy from the sanctuary of the Grail has told Amfortas that only a “holy fool,” unaware of sin, will be able to resist Kundry and regain the Sacred Spear. The plot of the opera deals with the fulfillment of this prophecy as a guileless youth, Parsifal (tenor Plácido Domingo), is brought to the venerable knight Gurnemanz (bass Kurt Moll), charged with killing a holy swan. When it becomes clear that the boy is innocent of the crime, and entirely ignorant of the world, he is selected to rescue the Sacred Spear. He triumphs, heals Amfortas, and is anointed King of the Grail by Gurnemanz. As Amfortas and the knights kneel to Parsifal, he baptizes Kundry, who finds at last the redemption of peaceful death.
James Levine conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this 1993 Deutsche Grammophon recording, CD number 437501.
Parsifal, after many years of wandering, appears with the spear that will heal Amfortas's wound. Gazing on the beautiful meadows, Parsifal says that on Good Friday every living thing should only sigh and sorrow, and the radiant Good Friday Music is a poignant meditation on the chief themes of the opera: suffering, compassion and redemption.
Be sure to tune in this Saturday, April 4th, at 1:00 p.m. for Verdi's Ernani. James Levine and Plácido Domingo reunite for the maestro's first Met Ernani in more than thirty years, and the former tenor's first-ever performance of the baritone role of Don Carlo. Singing other principal roles are Angela Meade (Elvira), Francesco Meli (Ernani), and Dmitry Belosselskiy (De Silva).
Please join me next Thursday, April 9th, for a pair of contemporary operas by American composer Ricky Ian Gordon: A Coffin in Egypt (2014) and Rappahannock County (2011). The former is based on the Horton Foote novel and stars Frederica von Stade; the latter was commissioned by the Virginia Arts Festival to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War.
The WCPE Opera House is heard every Thursday evening at 7 o’clock in the Eastern time zone on 89.7 FM in central North Carolina, and we’re streamed online at http://www.theclassicalstation.org.
— W. Robert Chapman, Host of the WCPE Opera House
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The Metropolitan Opera Announces the 2014-15 Season
The Met’s 2014-15 Season Will Feature 26 Operas, Including Three Met Premieres, In Six New Productions and 18 Revivals!
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