Though all the works of Richard Wagner present grave problems to the thinking opera lover, the difficulties presented by Parsifal, the last work of the Meister (as he was called in England at the end of the nineteenth century), probably dwarf those presented by the other nine operas of the composer’s maturity. Before Parsifal, Wagner had not gone beyond the relatively conventional questions of doomed love, universal treachery, and (in Die Meistersinger) what is, at least superficially, a mere story of boy meets girl. Now, at the end of his career, he went on to what appeared very much like the founding of a new world-religion, a faith based on the operatic celebration of a Christlike figure, who, through the wisdom produced by a hard-won chastity, becomes the savior of mankind.

Wagner adapted the story of Parsifal from the medieval legends of the...


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