The Wagner Journal

Tom DeRose, Wagner, Freud and Nietzsche in Berlin

Tom DeRose, Wagner, Freud and Nietzsche in Berlin

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July 2017, Volume 11, Number 2, 15–24.

There are many different ways of asking a question. When Gurnemanz, the old squire, asks the eponymous hero two questions at the end of Act I of Parsifal, ‘Why are you still standing there? Do you know what you have seen?’, he is also castigating him for his inability to answer what appears to be a simple question. Parsifal clearly does not know what he has just seen, and his reaction is simply to clutch his heart in a sign of intense emotion.

Despite Gurnemanz’s expectations, the answer to this question is indeed far from obvious, and the question is posed anew to every director who attempts to stage the work, and to every audience member who attends a performance. Often, the response in the auditorium, at least, mirrors the tenor’s action: Parsifal is an opera that induces states of extreme emotion and the sense of having experienced something profound, and yet the nature of this profundity seems to be essentially inscrutable. Despite its simplicity, the question posed to Parsifal, and indeed to us in the audience, is enigmatic, like the riddle that was posed to Oedipus in the Greek myth. It is a question of origins, and the answer cannot afford to be wrong.

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