Silly Season and Bayreuth 2015 – A Preview

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Silly Season is defined as ‘a period (as late summer) when the mass media often focus on trivial or frivolous matters for lack of major news stories’. Unfortunately world events become more dispiriting day by day but nevertheless there is still time for some (mainly German) journalists to report – often erroneously – the latest rumours from the Green Hill prior to the start of the annual Bayreuth Festival.

This year we have had Eva Wagner-Pasquier supposedly banned by Bayreuth’s new ‘musical director’ Christian Thielemann from the theatre during rehearsals of his – and Bayreuth director Katharina Wagner’s – eagerly anticipated new production of Tristan und Isolde. We’ve also had disappointment expressed by Kirill Petrenko, the conductor of the Ring, on this and other issues including last-minute cast changes this year. Updating this with more recent news from the Festspielhaus: apparently Eva Wagner-Pasquier – who is stepping down as co-director of the Festival this year to become its ‘advisor’ – is working there as usual this summer after all; now, apparently, Maestro Thielemann is unhappy about Kirill Petrenko getting the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic conducting job … and there has been another major cast change!

With three weeks to the opening of the 2015 Bayreuth Festival is any of this really important? Of course not. It is probably what happens with any similar festival or major opera house but Bayreuth – because of the Wagner name and an unfortunate past – tends to air its dirty linen in public and I – like many others, I suspect – am always happiest once the music starts, this year on 25th July.

Tristan und Isolde now has its third heroine with a fourth on the horizon and it is usually the role of Tristan that causes a problem! Eva-Maria Westbroek was for a long time scheduled to sing Isolde but earlier this year she was replaced by Anja Kampe. However, in the last few days it has been announced that Evelyn Herlitzius will be partnering Stephen Gould’s Tristan. Not only that but it seems Petra Lang – in the past an outstanding Brangäne – will make her role debut as Isolde at Bayreuth next year. I have often written about Bayreuth and anticipated cast and directors that have been promised in future years – if there is one thing recent events have informed me of it is to take one year at a time and wait to see who will be actually turning up each summer!

Most of the cast changes have involved Frank Castorf’s Ring – and from what I can see this will be mostly for the better. The audience should be much happier with German tenor Stefan Vinke as Siegfried instead of Canadian Lance Ryan, who was something of a disappointment in the two previous years of this production. Other important changes include:

John Daszak as Loge (instead of Norbert Ernst)

Andreas Conrad as Mime (instead of Burkhard Ulrich)

Andreas Hörl as Fafner (instead of Sorin Coliban)

Allison Oakes as Freia (instead of Elisabet Strid)

Stephen Milling as Hagen (instead of Attila June)

Albert Dohmen as Alberich (instead of Oleg Bryjak)

Anna Lapkovskaja as Flosshilde (instead of Maria Radner)

(Sadly it must be remembered how Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner died in that horrific Germanwings plane crash in March.)

The significant news for opera-lovers in the UK is that British singers – first-timer John Daszak and the returning Alison Oakes – are there and these are two names who are somewhat better known from their successes abroad than at home. (Click here to read an interview with John Daszak.)

This year there will be the fourth outing for Jan Philipp Gloger’s packing case Der fliegende Holländer (that premièred in 2012) which this year will be conducted by Axel Kober and has Samuel Youn and Ricarda Merbeth as the Dutchman and Senta.

Also this summer there will be the final revival of Hans Neuenfels’s deservedly much-lauded 2010 ratty Lohengrin with the wonderful triumvirate of singers, Klaus Florian Vogt, Annette Dasch and Petra Lang back for one last time as Lohengrin, Elsa and Ortrud – not now under Andris Nelsons’s baton, as he is due back next year for Parsifal, but conducted by Paris-born Alain Altinoglu. It will be interesting to see what, after Nelsons’s six wonderful years, a new conductor can bring to this legendary Lohengrin that will be undoubtedly be recalled – for its scenic and musical excellence – whenever the history of Bayreuth productions is debated … and thankfully it continues to be available to all on DVD (review). Forget the gossip and innuendo; it is being able to be present for Wagner evenings such as this that continues to make the effort worthwhile.

Finally, there are two other lesser known treats available in Bayreuth in summer. Every year I enjoy the children’s opera that is put on in association with the main Festival, in 2014 it was the highly enjoyable Lohengrin (review) and this summer it will be Parsifal (25th July to 6th August). Unfortunately it is already sold out but is something to remember in future years for anyone – even, like me, in my seventh decade – who remains a child at heart!

Also sadly overlooked by visitors to the Festival is the annual masterclass. Following Petra Lang, Markus Eiche and Johan Botha in recent years, this year it will be South African mezzo-soprano Michelle Breedt who will be working with the young singers. The masterclass takes place from 4th to 7th August at the Städtischen Musikschule Bayreuth and ends with a concert in the Balkonsaal of the Stadthalle Bayreuth on 8th August. This is open and free to all who want to attend.

I will review Tristan und Isolde, Der fliegende Holländer and Lohengrin at the 2015 Bayreuth Festival for this site in August.

Jim Pritchard

For details about the Bayreuth Festival visit .

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