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Parsifal (1982)

 -  Drama | Music  -  May 1982 (West Germany)
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Ratings: 7.5/10 from 177 users  
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Richard Wagner's last opera has remained controversial since its first performance for its unique, and, for some, unsavory blending of religious and erotic themes and imagery. Based on one ... See full summary »


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Title: Parsifal (1982)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Armin Jordan ...
Wolfgang Schöne ...
Amfortas (singing voice)
Martin Sperr ...
Hans Tschammer ...
Titurel (singing voice)
Robert Lloyd ...
Michael Kutter ...
Karin Krick ...
Reiner Goldberg ...
Parsifal (singing voice) (as Rainer Goldberg)
Aage Haugland ...
Edith Clever ...
Yvonne Minton ...
Kundry (singing voice)
Rudolph Gabler ...
Urban von Klebelsberg ...
Bruno Romani-Versteeg ...
Gilles Cachemaille ...
Gralsritter (singing voice)


Richard Wagner's last opera has remained controversial since its first performance for its unique, and, for some, unsavory blending of religious and erotic themes and imagery. Based on one of the medieval epic romances of King Arthur and the search for the holy grail (the chalice touched by the lips of Christ at the last supper), it recounts over three long acts how a "wild child" unwittingly invades the sacred precincts of the grail, fulfilling a prophecy that only such a one can save the grail's protectors from a curse fallen upon them. Interpreters of the work have found everything from mystical revelation to proto-fascist propaganda in it. Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's production doesn't avoid either aspect, but tries synthesize them by seeking their roots in the divided soul of Wagner himself. The action unfolds on a craggy landscape which turns out to be a gigantic enlargement of the composer's death mask, among deliberately tatty theatrical devices: puppets, scale models, ... Written by Roger Downey

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Drama | Music


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Release Date:

May 1982 (West Germany)  »

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Among the severed heads at the base of the broken phallus in Klingsor's castle (symbolizing the self-castration that gave the wizard his powers - this is one weird opera) are those of Karl Marx, Wagner himself...and Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher who was one of Wagner's most devoted champions until he broke with him over this very opera (he despised Christianity as a "slave" religion and thought Wagner had caved in to bourgeois morality). See more »


Version of Parsifal (2007) See more »

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User Reviews

Disturbing but Beautiful Version of Wagner's Parsifal
10 November 2003 | by (Portland, Maine) – See all my reviews

While lovers of Parsifal may be considered a minority, those of us who like Syberberg's film might be rarer still!

Of the title character Wagner wrote to Mathilde Wesendonk:

"Parsifal must carry the interest of a major character if he is not arrive at the end as a deus ex machine . . . (his) development must be brought back to the foreground and for this I have no option, no broad scheme such as Wolfram could command; I must so compress it all into three main situations of drastic substance that the profound, ramifying meaning is presented clearly and distinctly."

With "drastic" and "distinctly" in mind, Syberberg's use of both male and female actors as Parsifal seems to me a brilliantly cinematic means of achieving the result Wagner was after.

Every era believes itself to be a superior civilization to those prior to it and, if for no other reason than having distance and evolution on its side, the assumption has some credence. In this regard, Wagner saw himself as being somewhat benevolent in his forgiveness of Wolfram whom he admired (obviously) but viewed as a product "of a barbaric and utterly confused age." Nonetheless - with irony unintended - Wagner ridicules Wolfram, calling him on his irresolute nature in the poem, his ideals wavering between the purely pagan and those of a strong Christian nature (as though either of these are mutually exclusive - as I always say, Jesus and Santa Claus keep each other in business).

This irony actually hits with full force since Wagner himself substituted Wolfram's Grail with the chalice which Joseph of Arimethea caught the blood of the crucified Jesus, thus altering the Grail Hall ceremony of Wolfram's "barbaric" paganism into a ritual unmistakably and obviously (right down to its text) Christian. (This, by the way, served to further drive the stake between Wagner and Nietsche's once very strong friendship.)

I like Syberberg's use of Third Reich imagery in the Act I transformation music. Initially it horrified me (to the point of my eyes popping out of my head and my flesh getting all clammy-cold). Like Wagner changing Wolfram to suit his dramatic needs without changing the actual shape of the tale's intent, Syberberg's arresting imagery here - in a matter of only minutes - pulls together a history into a quick, timely shock of recognition that hits squarely and which burns its imagery forever into the mind.

I agree with some critics that fetishization is not too strong a term to describe what Syberberg does in his film. Certainly Amfortas' own endless proclamations of his guilt and unworthiness can be recognized in all of us to varying degrees - Wagner's (and Syberberg's art merely expanding this. Here (I'm not sure why) I often find myself thinking of Penelope; wearing her mournful chastity for Odysseus for twenty years, and that noble mourning eventually takes on other qualities; although still admirable also smacks of arrogance: self-induced martyrdom. Even so, it does not fundamentally diminish the character's integrity or original intent. Rather it complicates the person, adding endless facets - as well as a blatant human face - to that which may outwardly appear simple - but makes us aware there is far, far more.

I love this movie, but certainly can understand those who find it difficult (if not impossible) to warm up to it. Give it another chance! It may just grab you.


6 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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