"PARZIVAL & FIEREFIZ"

A Contemporary Re-telling of the Grail Myth


Music by JOHN MCDOWELL & EMMANUEL VUKOVICH

Libretto by GEORGE ELLIOTT CLARKE

PHILIPPE SLY Baritone 

KWASI DUNYO African Drum 

EMMANUEL VUKOVICH Violin

TORQ PERCUSSION QUARTET     

CANADA COUNCIL MUSICAL INSTRUMENT BANK ENSEMBLE


Official Premier: November 2020, Toronto: in conjunction with the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal and the University of Toronto's “Opera Exchange” Conference.


June 23rd, 2020, Chicago: Performance at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America 100th Anniversary Conference in collaboration with the Eurythmy Collective, directed by Alexandra Spadea.


Parzival & Fierefiz is produced by The Parcival Project - an International music performance collaborative and Canadian Charity founded in 2012 by Emmanuel Vukovich and Dominic Desautels. The Parcival Project Board Chair is Don McLean, Dean of The University of Toronto Faculty of Music.


This project has applied for funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and is in the process of identifying additional funding as well as further performance opportunities and a recording of the work.


Parzival & Fierefiz  - A new musical narrative of the Grail myth

A new and original composition for strings and percussion ensemble with solo voice, violin, and African drum inspired by Wolfram von Eschenbach’s medieval poem, Parzival & Fierefiz is currently being co-created by internationally award-winning American composer John McDowell and emerging Canadian violinist Emmanuel Vukovich in collaboration with African-Canadian poet George Elliot Clarke, Ghanian drummer Kwasi Dunyo, the Canadian percussion quartet TorQ, renowned Canadian baritone Philippe Sly, and recipients of the The Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank. Through an open score and space for improvisation, a cooperative development of story, and a general creative process based in principles of collaborative leadership, this work explores reconciliation in a contemporary musical context. It also includes vocal narration and sung text in the medieval troubadour tradition.


This project has assembled a renowned and committed team of contributors who all value the collaborative process and artistic intent of the project. The Canadian Governor General Award-winning African-Canadian-Métis poet George Elliot Clarke is known for his libretto of the opera Beatrice Chancy, Kwasi Dunyo is considered to be one of the finest West African-Ghanian drummers in North America and has worked with the Canadian percussion quartet TorQ which is known for its collaborative and contemporary approach to music making, and Canadian baritone Philippe Sly performs internationally with the world’s finest conductors and opera companies and has collaborated with Vukovich on projects previously. The string ensemble involved will include current and past recipients of The Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank many of whom have performed together regularly over the past years. All of the above artists are drawn to this project for the importance of its message, the possibility for shared creative exploration, and the artistic cross-cultural expression of the rich heritage of musical languages it proposes and espouses.

Parzival & Fierefiz - Emmanuel Vukovich, 2018

"If unfaith in the heart find dwelling then the soul it shall reap but woe, 
For shaming alike and honour are his who such doubt shall show. 
For it standeth in evil contrast with truth and dauntless might, 
As we see the magpie's plumage which at once is black and white. 
 And yet we may win to blessing since in our heart 
 Darkness and light both have their lot and part. 
The one who is false and unstead-fast has a soul as dark as the night, 
While the soul that hath never wavered stainless its hue as light."

Lines 1-8 of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (1197) 

From Parsifal to Parzival - Wagner to Eschenbach

Vukovich has been fascinated by Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival story for over twenty years. This 13th-Century medieval poem about the search for the Holy Grail was the inspiration for Richard Wagner’s final opera Parsifal. Wagner, however, chose to omit a critical element in Eschenbach’s story – the encounter between Parzival and an unknown dark- skinned knight who reveals himself to be Parzival's half-brother and whose name – Fierefiz – means 'he of many colours.’ This “hidden” brother of a mixed race opens the grail myth to a wide range of narratives and symbolic interpretations. Inspired by Eschenbach, Vukovich began working on a new musical narrative of the grail story with award-winning American composer John McDowell who also introduced him to the music of West Africa. During his studies at The Juilliard School, Vukovich travelled to The Gambia, West Africa to study with McDowell's teacher, Karamo Sabally. Almost two decades later, they have now gathered an extraordinary group of collaborators –  to explore a more complete musical narrative of Eschenbach’s tale. “This story could not be timelier in describing the individual’s search for identity as a collaborative process” comments Vukovich. “Eschenbach's tale is about a ‘brave soul, yet slow to wise’ who initially fails to ask a critical question – a question that has the power to heal an ancient wound. Only after the reconciliation between apparent strangers has taken place can the reunited brothers return to the Grail together and redeem the question that Parzival had failed to ask alone.”

"Parzival & Fierifiz" - ii. Encounter  

Retelling Eschenbach’s original story challenges our current understanding of the grail myth which has been dominated by Wagner’s legacy of individualism and exclusivity for the past 140 years. This new re-telling of the story which inspired Wagner's opera, however, explores a more contemporary narrative of the myth. It aims to transform the elitism around an ideal of purity through a confrontation, recognition, and eventual reconciliation between apparently irreconcilable polarities. Clarke has explored the intersection of race theory and opera composition for the past 25 years, including his ground-breaking 1998 opera Beatrice Chancy. The new libretto will “challenge the Darwin-derived, white-supremacist views that poisoned the era in which Wagner composed and which have even seeped down as ‘acceptable’ xenophobia today,” comments Clarke. In honouring Eschenbach’s original story, Parzival & Fierefiz strives to transform the Grail narrative from the individual-centred quest of Wagner's Parsifal into a contemporary journey of collaboration, community, and a return to wholeness. Parzival's transformation from ignorance to understanding occurs not only through the power of the intellect, but more importantly, through an awakening to the other. 

"There once was a knight who was searching for something.

But he was lost.
This knight had grown up in the forest with the birds, beasts, trees and water.
One day, this knight meets a stranger, another knight who comes from a distant land and who is very different.
And as is the custom, the two lower their lances, spur their horses, and begin to fight.
And never before in their lives, had either one encountered an opponent of equal strength and courage.
At one moment, one of the swords breaks and the two stop fighting and ask each other:
"Who are you?"
They discover that they are related.
They are half-brothers.

The stranger's name is Fierefiz. He comes from a land called Zazamanc, and his name means ‘of many colours.’
The other knight's name is Parzival - who's name means to pierce-the-veil or to reunite the opposites."


The Parcival Project

Parzival & Feirefiz - A New Narrative of Race is a project produced by The Parcival Project - an international performance collaborative and registered Canadian charity co-founded by Emmanuel Vukovich and Dominic Desautels in 2012. It is dedicated to the creation, production, and presentation of the inherited and evolving musical tradition, with a particular focus on a collaboratively led approach to performance. It builds ensembles for programming and touring, frequently including recipients of the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank joined by other exceptional Canadian and international performers and composers who are interested in this artist driven approach.