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Redemption and Transformation

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Making Sense of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal

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The article discusses Richard Wagner’s last music-drama, which today is the traditional Good Friday “opera” in New York, Vienna, and other venues around the globe. I argue that Parsifal utilizes traditional Christian symbols and thereby transforms them, in order to help transform the world of the audience. The first part of the article summarizes the dramatic conflict and analyzes how the work appropriates the Christian symbolism of the Lord’s Supper. I also look at Wagner’s essay “Religion and Art,” which was written during the composition of Parsifal and presents an ethical critique of Christianity in the name of “true religion.” The second part of the article presents two assessments of Parsifal, both of which acknowledge its inherent religious symbolism but come to different conclusions regarding its significance (Christian versus atheistic). The third part of the article offers an alternative interpretation and implies trajectories for further research.

Affiliations: 1: University of Basel


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