Arts: The Battle of Bayreuth Remarkably Three Wagner Generations Have Run the Opera Festival Which I S the Composer's Shrine. but Can This Feuding Family Manage a Fourth?
Blom, Phillip, The Independent (London, England)
The Festspielhaus in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth, home to the annual Wagner Festival, is an opera house unlike any other. Not only is its repertoire limited to the works of just one composer - Richard Wagner - and their attendance seen as a pilgrimage quite as much as a musical experience; it has also been continuously run by members of his family since his death in 1883. Now Wagner's grandson Wolfgang has announced his intention to step down this July from the post of Festspielleiter (festival leader). This has caused a tide of speculation and politicking as family members jockey for position to succeed him.
The Wagner family is unquestionably the greatest musical dynasty in the world, even though its individual members have had differing degrees of aptitude for their role as guardians of Wagner's music. After Wagner's death his formidable widow, Cosima ran Bayreuth, was succeeded by their son Siegfried - and then his formidable widow, Winifred, after his death in 1930. During the Third Reich, the festival became closely associated with the Nazi government, and Hitler himself was a regular and honoured guest at Bayreuth. Wagner and Liszt were the composers the Fuhrer most venerated and Wagner's music and his portrayal of German mythology played a central role in National Socialist aesthetics. In the immediate post- war period this cast a considerable shadow over Bayreuth.
In 1951, however, Siegfried and Winifred's sons, Wolfgang and Wieland, launched "New Bayreuth", laying the emphasis on Wagner the apostle of brotherhood and freedom rather than Wagner the anti- Semite and racial supremacist. They revolutionised opera production. Under Wieland, ultra- modern productions were introduced, which dispensed with the stereotypes of fat tenors in short smocks and enormous sopranos balancing feathered helmets on blond wigs. Since his brother's death in 1966, Wolfgang has run the festival alone. Most critics feel that he lacks Wieland's ability as a director, and that the festival has became stale under his guidance. His successor will have to tackle all these issues and strike out on a new and energetic artistic course. The statutes of the opera house stipulate that the post be filled by a Wagner descendant, "unless a person of outstanding merit presents himself". In reality, things are not as simple as may seem. There are four extant lines of the Wagner family, all descendants of Wagner's son Siegfried and of his children Wieland, Wolfgang, Verena and Friedelind. In Wagnerian parlance, they are referred to as Stamme, tribes, since it sounds suitably Germanic and primeval. Each tribe has one vote in the 24-vote council of the Festival Foundation. The other 20 are cast by various trusts and other bodies, among them the Federal Republic of Germany, the state of Bavaria, the municipality of Franconia, the city of Bayreuth and the Society of Friends of Bayreuth, all of which have their own vested interests. Wolfgang Wagner's announcement of his intention to make way for a new Bayreuth director came after considerable pressure from various sources who pointed out that, at 79, he was unlikely to be able to do the job for much longer. It is believed that his decision followed an arrangement with members of the council likely to advantage his own preferred candidate. The deciding vote will not be taken until July. Should the council be unable to reach a decision, it will be incumbent on the directors of the opera houses of Berlin, Munich and Vienna to nominate the next director. Apart from the political manoeuvrings between the official bodies, negotiations are …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Arts: The Battle of Bayreuth Remarkably Three Wagner Generations Have Run the Opera Festival Which I S the Composer's Shrine. but Can This Feuding Family Manage a Fourth?. Contributors: Blom, Phillip - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: March 26, 1999. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.