When Valery Gergiev conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the solemnly beautiful Prelude and Good Friday Music from Wagner’s Parsifal on Sunday, February 28, audiences will get a small but sublime taste of a colossal work that transcends traditional opera. Wagner called Parsifal a Bühnenweihfestpiel or, roughly translated, a “stage consecrating festival play.” The stage he was consecrating was that of the Bayreuth Festival, the dream theater he built to provide a home for his visionary music dramas. Wagner insisted on having things his own way. That included building his own theater and imposing a 30-year embargo on performances of Parsifal outside of Bayreuth.
The Temple of the Grail: Act I, Scene 2 (stage design)
Parsifal clocks in at a bit under five hours and explores many themes, including the Holy Grail quest and the story of the Fisher King—which also inspired T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land, Jessie L. Weston in the brief but brilliant From Ritual to Romance, and (without stretching the conceit too much) Luke Skywalker’s rite of passage in Star Wars. Parsifal, like Luke, takes a journey and comes out in the end wiser and more compassionate.
It’s all there in the music. The Prelude, with its ethereal shimmering strings and solemn brass iterations of the Holy Grail theme, sets the stage unlike anything in music drama; you know you are in for something profound. The Good Friday music nobly proclaims the return of Parsifal from his wanderings and also consecrates one of Christendom’s holiest days. In some opera houses, it even became a tradition to perform Parsifal on Good Friday. Don’t think too much about plot, symbolism, or religion; just enjoy some of the most beautiful music ever written.
|Sunday, February 28 at 2 PM
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
The New York Times has called the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra “one of the glories of the orchestra world” and praised its “warm, rich sound.” The legendary orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev, brings its trademark tone to music of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. The music of Parsifal has a solemn, majestic beauty that takes on a stunning spiritual radiance. Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, based on Byron’s poem, was written between the composer’s Fourth and Fifth symphonies; like those works, it contains some of his most urgent and devilishly virtuosic orchestral writing.