United Kingdom Marking Time: Bayreuth 2014 – A Preview By Jim Pritchard
As the ongoing restoration of the Festspielhaus at Bayreuth continues, in the background efforts continue to shore up the future artistic direction of the annual Wagner Festival. Over recent months there has appeared little of the usual dissent or debate that has blighted discussion about the Bayreuth Festival in recent years and there is a sense of ‘marking time’ up on the Green Hill. The biggest news recently revolved around Eva Wagner-Pasquier’s decision not to have her contract as co-director renewed when it ends in September 2015. She is significantly older than her half-sister Katharina and an extended contract would mean she would be in her mid-seventies when it ended and probably she believed her time was past. Ms Wagner-Pasquier is an artistic consultant of great renown, notably for the Metropolitan Opera, and she is expected to continue in this capacity at Bayreuth. Although negotiations are still ongoing, it is expected that Katharina Wagner will be offered a further five-year contract working together with the current managing director, Heinz-Dieter Sense, and they will be aided and abetted by music advisor, Christian Thielemann.
The second ‘big news’ of the current hiatus is that the experiment with online ticket sales was not a complete success and all 10,000 tickets were not sold for the 11 performances available. It is believed that people originally tried to book anything they could and then realised the cost and eventually cancelled their reserved tickets or just did not pay. The available tickets – often for the most expensive seats – were offered for sale in March and quickly snapped up and it was made clear that all the other performances were completely full as usual.
The Bayreuth Festival, originally established by Richard Wagner himself, is one of the world’s longest-running summer music festivals and also one of the hardest to get into, with – even if somewhat apocryphally – the waiting list for tickets believed to be up to 10 years or more before the recent online availability. Almost thumbing its nose at the critics who have much derided Sebastian Baumgarten’s production with its massive permanent industrial plant setting, the 2014 Bayreuth Festival – the 103rd – opens with the 2011 Tannhäuser. For me it has improved over the subsequent years and I believe I am one of the few to ‘get it’ (review) but its time is up and is having a final outing before being replaced in 2019. Axel Kober conducts once again and the cast includes Torsten Kerl, Camilla Nylund and Michelle Breedt returning as Tannhäuser, Elisabeth and Venus. The next evening Jan Philipp Gloger’s packing case Der fliegende Holländer (that premièred in 2012) returns, conducted by Christian Thielemann, who alone makes seeing it worthwhile. Samuel Youn continues as the Dutchman with Ricarda Merbeth as Senta.
Last year was the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth and it was celebrated – though that was not the opinion of many who saw it at the time – by Frank Castorf’s new Ring Cycle with Kirill Petrenko conducting, sets by Aleksandar Denić and costumes by Adriana Braga Peretzki. I will not repeat any of the scorn with which his staging was received because I will review it myself this summer and will make up my own mind about what I am seeing. Nevertheless Maestro Petrenko – a recent winner at the 2014 Opera Awards, along with the always magnificent Bayreuth Festival Chorus – was mostly absolved of any blame and was almost universally praised even if there were mixed opinions about the cast, most of whom return this year. These include Wolfgang Koch as Wotan and the Wanderer; Catherine Foster, a British soprano – who is virtually unknown in the UK – as Brünnhilde; Martin Winkler (Alberich); Norbert Ernst (Loge); Burkhard Ulrich (Mime) and Claudia Mahnke (Fricka). Johan Botha and Anja Kampe return as Siegmund and Sieglinde, this time with Kwangchul Youn as Hunding. Lance Ryan is once again Siegfried, Nadine Weissmann is Erda, Attila Yun is Hagen and Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester sings Gunther. Bayreuth Rings often settle down in the second year and I expect Castorf’s version to confirm this familiar trend.
The final opera at this year’s Festival with be a further revival of Hans Neuenfels’s much-lauded – and deservedly so – 2010 rat-infested Lohengrin with its wonderful triumvirate of singers, Klaus Florian Vogt, Annette Dasch and Petra Lang as Lohengrin, Elsa and Ortrud respectively under Andris Nelsons’s baton. This already legendary Lohengrin will be remembered – both scenically and musically – whenever the history of productions at Bayreuth is debated and thankfully is available to all on DVD.
2015 will be an important year for the future of Bayreuth as not only is Katharina Wagner’s contract due for renewal but she is directing the new Tristan und Isolde that will be conducted by Christian Thielemann. Sets will be by Frank Schloessmann, costumes by Matthias Lippert and Stephen Gould sings Tristan with Eva Maria Westbroek as Isolde. In 2016 there is a much anticipated new Parsifal with direction, set design and costumes by enfant terrible Jonathan Meese and in the leading roles will be Klaus Florian Vogt (Parsifal), Petra Lang (Kundry) and Georg Zeppenfeld (Gurnemanz) with Andris Nelsons conducting. Looking even further ahead there will be a new Die Meistersinger in 2017, a new Lohengrin in 2018, that new Tannhäuser in 2019 and the next new Ring in 2020.
I thoroughly enjoyed last year my first visit to the children’s opera that is put on in association with the Bayreuth Festival, in 2013 it was Tristan und Isolde (review) and this summer it will be Lohengrin (25th July to 7th August). Tickets will be available from May and it will be well worth seeing if you have time, for anyone like me who is still a child at heart!
I will review Der Ring des Nibelungen and Lohengrin at the 2014 Bayreuth Festival for this site in August.
For details about the Bayreuth Festival visit http://www.bayreuther-festspiele.de/ .
For more about ‘Lohengrin – für Kinder’ visit http://kinderoper.bfmedien.de/2014.php.