Who's who in Parsifal

5 Feb 2019

With Parsifal, Wagner created a rich dramatic world filled with mythical characters including noble knights, a shape-shifter temptress and an evil sorcerer. Find more about the characters and their stories.

Parsifal Act Three costume design by Christina Smith for Victorian Opera


Parsifal is a naive, young man who was raised in the woods by his protective mother, Herzeleide. He never knew his father who was killed in battle before Parsifal was born. One day Parsifal saw a passing retinue of knights and decided he wanted to be like them. He followed the knights and abandoned his mother, who in turn died of sorrow. Armed with a homemade bow and a desire to see the world, Parsifal wandered the wilderness, proudly looking after himself.

Innocent, ignorant and filled with youthful exuberance, he recklessly shoots a sacred swan out of the sky, leading to an encounter with the knights of the Holy Grail which will change his life forever.

Titurel costume design by Christina Smith for Victorian Opera


Former Grail King, Titurel founded the brotherhood of knights and built Monsalvat to house the Holy Grail and Spear. A noble and devout hero, angels bestowed upon him the cup from the Last Supper and the spear which pierced Christ’s side.

Now extremely old, Titurel leads a twilight existence between life and death, confined to his tomb and only kept alive by the ritual unveiling of the Grail.

Amfortas costume design by Christina Smith for Victorian Opera


Amfortas, the son of Titurel, succeeded his father as the Grail King. Although righteous and tenacious, he paid the price when he put desire before duty. In an attempt to defeat the evil sorcerer Klingsor, he succumbed to the wiles of a beautiful temptress. While he was distracted, Klingsor stole the Holy Spear and used it to stab Amfortas in the side.

Tormented by remorse and his incurable wound, Amfortas lives in agony. While the Holy Grail keeps his father alive and provides the knights with nourishment, its unveiling reopens Amfortas’s wound and causes him great pain. Out of selflessness and a sense of duty he continues to perform the ritual, but ultimately longs for death.

Gurnemanz Act One costume design by Christina Smith for Victorian Opera


A spirited old knight, Gurnemanz has dedicated his life to serving the Grail, first under Titurel and now under Amfortas. He has witnessed many dramatic moments in the brotherhood’s history and enjoys educating the young squires about the past.

He is watching the brotherhood slowly falling apart but holds hope that they will find the ‘innocent fool, enlightened by compassion’ to save them. Principled and kindly, he is quick to reprimand immoral acts but also keen to teach the ways of the knights. He gives Parsifal his first lesson in compassion.

Kundry Act Two costume design by Christina Smith for Victorian Opera


Ageless and enigmatic, Kundry has lived many lives, cursed to walk the earth eternally after laughing at Christ during his crucifixion. She leads a double life, playing pious servant and wanton temptress.

To atone for past sins, she serves as a messenger for the Grail knights. In this world she is a wild heathen with piercing eyes that are sometimes flashing wildly, more often lifeless and staring. The young squires mock her but also fear her unnatural powers.

In the other realm, she works for Klingsor as a lascivious seductress in his magic garden. She wants to find peace but can only be released from her living damnation by the man who resists her charms.

Costume design for Klingsor's Flower Maiden by Christina Smith for Victorian Opera


Klingsor is an evil sorcerer who wants the Holy Grail for himself. A former knight with sinful tendencies, he was rejected from the brotherhood by Titurel despite having castrated himself to prove his chastity.

To get revenge, Klingsor built a magic castle in the desert with a lush garden of temptation filled with flirtatious Flower Maidens. These women of ‘devilish beauty’ lure the knights to their downfall. Malicious, self-serving and depraved, Klingsor and his world are the antithesis to everything that the realm of the Grail holds dear.

By Beata Bowes