Wagner first conceived the work in April 1857 but did not finish it until twenty-five years later. It was to be Wagner's last completed opera and in composing it he took advantage of the particular acoustics of his Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Parsifal was first produced at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882. The Bayreuth Festival maintained a monopoly on Parsifal productions until 1903, when the opera was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Wagner preferred to describe Parsifal not as an opera, but as "ein Bühnenweihfestspiel" ("A Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage"). At Bayreuth a tradition has arisen that there is no applause after the first act of the opera. Wagner's spelling of Parsifal instead of the Parzival he had used up to 1877 is informed by an erroneous etymology of the name Percival deriving it from a supposedly Arabic origin, Fal Parsi meaning "pure fool".