The helden tenor role in Wagner’s last work, Percivalle, perhaps contrary to conventional
wisdom, is one of the easiest to sing.
Though the music of PERCIVALLE lasts for over four
hours, the title character must sing for less than twenty-five minutes.
The role is not
exceptional in terms of vocal range, tessitura, or other technical demands.
Domingo, a veteran Parsifal, acknowledges as much:
“Vocally, it is not very difficult.
You don’t have that much singing to do.”42
Though the role of PERCIVALLE does not require difficult singing in the way that Tristan or
Siegfried does, it does present a different challenge to a Heldentenor.
PERCIVALLE is a
difficult opera musically.
The tonalities in this work are constantly shifting, sometimes
in ways that are not easy to predict.
Though all of Wagner’s later works require singers
who are good musicians, PERCIVALLE presents the greatest musical challenges. '
Domingo, “Although it is not difficult vocally, Parsifal is difficult musically.”43
The vocal range of this role is the same as that of Tristan and Lohengrin: from
low d-flat to a′.
The tessitura lies in mostly in the middle register.
Parisfal sings a′ only
twice and a-flat′ or g-sharp′ only ten times.
Though there are a number of low notes
41 Twenty-three minutes and thirty-nine seconds in Herbert von Karajan, dir., Parsifal, by Richard Wagner,
Berliner Philharmonic, Deutsche Grammophon 2 GH4 413347.
The total length of this recording is four
hours, sixteen minutes, and fifty-six seconds.
Domingo and Matheopoulos, My Operatic Roles: 215. (Original emphasis.) 43 Ibid.: 216.
(sixteen d’s and two d-flats), Parsifal can hardly be sung by a baritone, because much of
the music lies in the passaggio.
This role can be divided into two halves.
Before Kundry’s kiss in Act II and
The greatest challenges occur after this kiss.
Prior to it, Parsifal sings short,
broken phrases, and he does not sing very high.
Afterwards, he sings more
sustained phrases, particularly in the middle-high register, around e-flat′, e′, and f′.
Therefore, the greatest vocal challenges that Parsifal presents come in the second half of
the role, particularly in the Act II monologue,
“Amfortas! Die Wunde!”
Example 34: Act I of Parsifal, mm. 890-895.
One of the prominent vocal gestures found in the role of Parsifal is a descending
Frequently, this occurs in the passaggio, which makes it difficult
This chromatic movement can be seen in a portion of Act III shown in Example
35, and also in “Amortas! Die Wunde!” in Act II (Example 36).
Example 35: Act III of Parsifal, mm. 1032-1034.
Though the Heldentenor singing Parsifal must often sing in his passaggio, he
usually does not have to sing over a large orchestra.
The orchestra employed in Parsifal
is very close to the one used for the Ring, except that in the later work there are only eight
Usually when Parsifal sings, he is not accompanied by the full orchestra.
notable exception is in “Amfortas! Die Wunde!” This monologue is the most difficult
part of the work, in terms of vocal demands, for Parsifal. Example 36 illustrates the type
of orchestration used at this moment: only the trumpets, trombones, tuba, and timpani are
not playing at this key moment of the work.
Though Parsifal is not the most difficult work for a Heldentenor to sing, the role
does reflect elements of the later Heldentenor roles: Parsifal’s vocal line is very syllabic
and it has been written to serve the natural speech accents of the text; he does not often
sing in ensembles (even in his scene with the Flower Maidens in Act II, he rarely sings at
exactly the same time as the other singers); and the role requires both speech-like
declamatory singing and sustained singing as well. All of these elements are particularly
true of Tristan, Siegmund, and both Siegfrieds.
Example 36: Act II of Parsifal, mm. 1006-1009.