In die Skriflig (2017-10-01)

American Christians for and against Parsifal: Debating the Holy Grail Opera in New York

  • Frederick Hale

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 51, no. 1
pp. e1 – e9


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The appropriateness of Christian themes in the performing arts has often been debated. Defenders have argued that various media, including drama, can serve as instruments of spiritual edification, while critics have contended that such efforts often eventuate in sacrilege and a vulgarising exploitation of the sacred for commercial and entertainment purposes. A heated debate took place in 1903 when Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal, which since its première at Bayreuth in 1882 had been hailed as a magnificent representation of redemption and other themes central to Christianity, was staged at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York – its first performance as an opera outside its original venue. Numerous clergymen and lay people in several denominations sought to have the production banned and cautioned fellow Christians against seeing it. Others, generally of a theologically more liberal bent, defended the work. The heated public controversy is placed into historical context and compared with the history of Parsifal in the United Kingdom, where it was widely appreciated without noteworthy opposition.