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5.8.03

Der Ring at Bayreuth Festival

Well, it's August and you know what that means: the Bayreuther Festspiele, or all the Wagner you could ever possibly want to hear. (At the time of this writing, the English versions of the Festival's Web pages were not functioning, but you can still use the site in German.) The first Bayreuth Festival began with the world premiere of the entire four-opera saga The Ring of the Nibelungs on August 13, 1876, with Hans Richter conducting. One of the great artistic events of all time, the first festival received a surprising number of prominent visitors from the international arts community, including composers Edvard Grieg, Anton Bruckner, Franz Liszt, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Camille Saint-Saëns. (Do the Ring cycle and the Star Wars movies have something in common? Kristian Evensen thinks so.) This year's first performance of the Ring cycle was July 27 to August 1, and the second will begin tomorrow, August 6. None of these performances present all four operas on four consecutive nights, which I guess means that you can hear too much Wagner, even in Bayreuth. Parsifal, the only opera actually composed specifically for the Bayreuth theater, the opera that Wagner wanted performed only in Bayreuth, and the only opera Wagner himself actually conducted at Bayreuth, is not on the program this year. (Parsifal is also the opera that Adolf Hitler requested not be performed at Bayreuth for the 1940 festival. Because of his close ties to Winifred Wagner, his request was honored.)

Wagner's 84-year-old grandson Wolfgang is still the Festival's director, although gossip about who will replace him continues to flourish (see this article in Business Times Asia). It will almost certainly be a member of the Wagner family, although the festival's by-laws do not require that to be so. The common criticism of Wolfgang Wagner is that he is too conservative, but he plans to shake things up by bringing in some guest directors, including Christoph Schlingensief for the 2004 Parsifal and Lars von Trier for the 2006 Ring. The latter I would love to see, and I have always wanted to make the "pilgrimage" to Bayreuth. However, demand for this summer's tickets exceeded supply by 10 to 1, and realistically you should make your plans as much as 7 years in advance, to make sure you can obtain tickets.

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