Examining Productions of Wagner’s Parsifal through the Twentieth Century

Laurence Spezzano


Parsifal (1882), Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) final opera, emphasizes the value of compassion over the pursuit of power within a setting of Christian myth. Until WWII, producers of Parsifal tried to emulate Wagner’s original vision with absolute fidelity. However, following the Nazi appropriation of Wagner’s music, producers worldwide saw the need to reexamine the work. Beginning with Wieland Wagner’s 1951 production, stage directors subjected the work to a variety of interpretations that differed vastly from the original, making the work abstract by removing overt Christian setting and props. During the 1970s and 1980s, directors took this rejection of the original stage directions a step further by implementing realistic settings to overtly criticize political conditions, sexism, and anti- Semitism. In recent years producers have continued to grapple with the original work in the light of contemporary issues. My research focuses on the producer’s role in creating unique productions of contemporary significance from Wagner’s original work. Considering the wide variance in artistic visions demonstrated by the producers of Parsifal, my study aims to show the connections between productions in different time periods and how they have resulted in Parsifal’s overall growth as a work. By consulting scholarly literature and periodical reviews, a master list of over 200 productions was narrowed to a group of 40, which represent the most historically significant interpretations of their time. For this reduction, performances that were mentioned repeatedly across sources were used in this project as the most critically significant productions. By examining the changes to plot and setting in each of these productions, connections between each production and their contemporary social and artistic circumstances became clear. As a result of this study, the evidence shows that Parsifal remains an important artistic work with significance to modern audiences only through the constant reinterpretation of the work by producers.


Parsifal, Opera, Directors

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