5 financial lessons from “Parsifal.”

thYesterday we went to the Metropolitan Opera’s live movie theater broadcast of Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal.” It was a semi-frugal experience: The discounted movie tickets that I bought through MyPoints reduced the $22-per-head cost, and I used my giant $3-per-refill cup.

In another year DF will be old enough for a senior discount, which will shave another $2 off his ticket. But what’s an extra $2 when you get more than five hours of scorched-earth opera?

By that I don’t mean that the music takes no prisoners, but rather that the set is a post-apocalyptic expanse of cracked clay – except for Act II, in which the principals spend most of their time standing in 1,200 gallons of blood. You learn the most interesting things during the intermission interviews.

(What I didn’t learn, and would really like to know, is how much Clorox the wardrobe mistresses will need during the run. Several dozen of those principals were wearing white shifts, as you can see from the photo that accompanies this New York Times review, and a white-sheeted bed figured prominently in the drama. None of this stuff stayed white for long. Eeewww.)

The plot is, well, Wagnerian. It includes the Holy Grail, an order of knights who guard it, the theft of the spear that pierced Christ’s side, a holy fool, greed, ambition, a hint of Eastern mysticism, a wound that won’t close, dark arts, a self-castration (which isn’t the wound that won’t close, by the way), a woman who can neither cry nor die (although she desperately craves both experiences), a garden of deadly female “flowers” who ensnare knights foolish enough to listen and lots of singing.

Lots of singing. Did I mention that it runs for almost five hours plus intermissions?

A while back I wrote “8 personal finance lessons from ‘Gotterdammerung’.” So why not offer a little PF advice from this Wagner romp, too?


Budgets and baritones

1. Don’t give up an integral part of yourself for a job. Klingsor “unmanned himself” to remain chaste enough to be chosen as one of the Grail-guarding knights. Not good enough: head knight Tinturel rejects him. (Is it any wonder Klingsor turns to dark arts?)

There are times when you take a gig you don’t like as a steppingstone to a job you do like, or a job that runs afoul of your personal values to reach a specific financial goal. For example, one man I know practices corporate law that pays hugely because he wants to set up his young family for life. But if you keep doing work that shreds your soul, you could wind up overspending: to keep up appearances, to assuage the guilt you feel at not being there for your loved ones or to distract yourself from memories of the person you once wanted to be.

2. Temptation is tempting. Don’t be tempted. Tinturel’s son, the normally super-focused Amfortas, succumbs to the temptress Kundry’s wiles and leaves the holy spear unguarded. This doesn’t end well. (See “wound that won’t close,” above.)

Maybe you’re tired of being responsible all the time, too. Maybe you’d like a hot car, a great new wardrobe, a trip somewhere exciting — or some of those wiles. Budget for a little fun, but don’t forget to cover all the financial bases first.

3. Don’t rely on your kids. You sacrifice everything for your children, expecting they’ll take care of you later in life. Next thing you know you’re Tinturel, feeble and frail, pleading with Amfortas to give you the daily glimpse of the Grail you need to survive – but thanks to that ever-bleeding wound, Amfortas can no longer bear the pain of opening the shrine.

Don’t expect your children to be able to care for you. Even if they want to, they have their own finances to deal with (and which may also be hemorrhaging). Plan your retirement as though it needs to last the rest of your life, because it does.

4. Live a little! This revelation came not from the opera but from the refreshment stand: I sprung for the largest kettle corn, which comes with a free refill. By the end of Act II we’d finished the refill. Was that frugal? Nope, and neither was the fact that I got a second $3 soda before Act III began. But it sure was enjoyable.

My “save where I can so I can spend where I want” resolve means that I can spring for stuff now and then without worrying too much. Besides, I needed the extra caffeine to stay awake toward the super-slow, solemn conclusion. As DF noted, the pace of this opera “makes a glacier seem meteoric.”

5. Romance carefully. Kundry enticed many an errant knight to his downfall with her promise of a simple “hour of love.”

Ladies: Hook up with the wrong guy and you could spend years trying to dig yourself out of debt. Men: Unless you want to pay child support for a couple of decades, wear a condom. That unguarded spear will get you every time.

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  1. Great to see you and Df enjoying yourselves. Have made one or two of those mistakes myself in the past but now that I am older and wiser will heed your warnings. Great analogies!! We get Metropolitan Opera productions broadcast on the radio here in Ireland and sometimes live. Will have to close my eyes and imagine all of that blood!!!

  2. Haha, I thought that was Vagner yesterday when I turned on the radio and then turned it off shortly after saying, “I’m not up to Wagner today.” I then turned on a cd of children’s music.

  3. Wagner, not Vagner… must have been verklempt when I typed that.

  4. You are too funny! Love it!

  5. lostAnnfound

    A small local theater here has started a program like this where they play an opera one week and a ballet the following week, a new one each month. The end of this month they are showing Swan Lake from 1966 with Rudolf Nureyev and I’m hoping to be able to work my schedule around to be able to go see it. General admission is $12.00, seniors $10.00. Beer & Wine are served beforehand and soda & popcorn refills are $1.00 for all sizes. This is a really nice smaller theater with two screens, maybe seats 100 each. It’s located in an area of small shops & restaurants, all local places/owners, so when we do get to go out to the movies we try to go here to support these people.

  6. A delightful post Donna, and I particularly liked the warning to men about their “unguarded spear.”


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