Quite simply life-changing

“When I first heard Parsifal at Bayreuth I was 15. I cried for two weeks and then became a musician,” Max Reger, the German pianist and composer, later recalled. Celebrities had flocked to the opera’s premiere in 1882, and the music world was flooded with commentary on Wagner’s newest work. Some critics saw the work as a weakening of Wagner’s powers, but many musicians found something of the sublime in the score. Renowned composer Gustav Mahler wrote about the performance in letter to a friend in 1883: “I can hardly describe my present state to you. When I came out of the Festspielhaus, completely spellbound, I understood that the greatest and most painful revelation had just been made to me, and that I would carry it unspoiled for the rest of my life.” 


Initially Parsifal was blocked from all stages outside of the German town of Bayreuth, where Wagner and his wife held complete control over the décor, costume and stage direction. When other theatres were finally granted permission to stage the entire opera at the end of 1913, over 50 performances were given at opera houses in Europe from January to August in 1914. 


Keith Warner, the artistic director at the Royal Danish Opera, has re-imagined Wagner’s masterwork, and his version of the dramatic production will be on view for the first time in Copenhagen. The sound of the spectacle rests on several experienced Wagner performers, including renowned tenor Stig Fogh Andersen in the title role of the knight Parsifal and Stephen Milling as Gurnemanz, the eldest knight of the Holy Grail. Usually cast in the role of the villain, Swedish baritone John Lundgren takes the role of Amfortas, the king of the Holy Grail, for the first time.


Warner has been a passionate devotee of Wagner’s operas since the age of 14, when he saw Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. “Since then I’ve constantly read about Wagner, seen his works and thought about them, and the amazing thing is that my interest has never waned – indeed, as time goes on I become more and more interested,” said Warner in an interview before directing The Ring Cycle at Covent Garden. This will be Warner’s last season as artistic director in Copenhagen, having submitted his resignation in January due in part to dramatic budget cuts.


In writing Parsifal, Richard Wagner took his inspiration from the 13th century epic poem Parzival, written by the German knight and poet Wolfram von Eschenbach. Ostensibly focusing on the quest for the Holy Grail and the knights of Arthurian legends, Wagner’s loose adaption draws on ideas about faith, compassion and eastern philosophies such as concepts of Buddhism. Flower maidens, squires, a magician, a wild woman and a holy spear all make up some of the key elements of the dramatic storyline.


As part of the audience of that first production, Claude Debussy thought the characters and plot ludicrous, but wrote that musically the opera was “incomparable and bewildering, splendid and strong”. He added that “Parsifal is one of the loveliest monuments of sound ever raised to the serene glory of music.”



Store Scene, Operaen, Ekvipagemestervej 10, 1438 Cph K;

Starts Thu, ends May 13, performances at 17:00 (unless stated) on Thu, March 26, April 11, April 14, April 18, April 22 (15:00), April 30, May 4, May 8, May 13 (15:00);

Tickets: 95-895kr; 330 mins with two intermissions;

In German with Danish supertitles;

3369 6969;