Looking forward to Bayreuth 2012. A Preview by Jim Pritchard

Looking forward to Bayreuth 2012. A Preview by Jim Pritchard (JPr)

‘Seen and Heard International’ returns to the 2012 Bayreuth Festival and I will review the final five performances before the much-anticipated 2013 Wagner bicentenary celebrations begin. Although Wagner’s early operas will be performed together for the first time in Bayreuth – albeit not on the stage of the Festspielhaus and in cooperation with Leipzig Opera (see www.bayreuther-festspiele.de) – there will be only one subject of discussion … what will Berlin-born Frank Castorf do with the Ring? Rumour has it he has agreed a specific clause in his contract that he will not alter the text or the music – he is apparently that sort of director! It should be interesting because we are promised a revolving stage on which the modern third world’s greed for ‘black gold’ – oil – is played out. At the end of last month it was announced that Kirill Petrenko – soon to become the music director of Munich State Opera – had finally signed up to conduct these forthcoming Ring Cycles.

That is still to come but there is still much too look forward to in a year that is – apart from one new addition to the roster of productions – basically ‘treading water’ and waiting for 2013. It has been a bit of a fraught hiatus since the close of last year’s Festival – firstly there was no going back on Siemen’s dramatic withdrawal of their sponsorship of the outdoor broadcasts of a selected performance every year. A new online ticketing system was introduced and there was the important matter of a Federal Government audit of Bayreuth’s historical system for allocating tickets to their ‘Friends’ organisation and elsewhere at full price and the small proportion given away to interested parties such as the media and sponsors. Thankfully the outcome was that a grateful ‘Seen and Heard International’ and other regular reviewers will be back to report on the 2012 Festival, but I understand that tour operators and many Wagner Societies – who have been long-term backers of the Festival in one way or another over the years – have had their annual small allocation of Festival tickets withdrawn with immediate effect. This is likely to cause turmoil in these various Wagner Societies as many members only join in the (vain?) hope of getting their hands on these rare Bayreuth tickets and others volunteer to be actively involved on the committees for the very same reason.

Anyway on happier matters, Audi are the new sponsors of live broadcasts to cinemas and Arte will continue to broadcast a performance on TV. This year it will be Stefan Herheim’s 2008 production of Parsifal on 11 August. At the moment (www.wagner-im-kino.de) only cinemas in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are listed but I am informed that it will be shown in the UK and some other countries too. The very popular ‘Richard Wagner for Children’ presentations continue with a special 75-minute matinee version of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from 25 July to 4 August on Rehearsal Stage IV aimed at young people from 6 to 10 years old.

The 2012 Festival (that runs to 28 August) will open with the première of Der fliegende Holländer on 25 July. Jan Philipp Gloger (director), Christof Hetzer (stage designer), Karin Jud (costume designer), Urs Schönebaum (lighting designer) and Sophie Becker (dramaturgy) will all be working at Bayreuth for the first time. The Festival’s artistic advisor Christian Thielemann will again be on the conductor’s rostrum having now conducted more than 100 times. Russian baritone Evgeny Nikitin will sing the title role and make his Bayreuth debut and Canadian soprano, Adrianne Pieczonka – who sang Sieglinde there in 2006 and 2007 – will be Senta. Franz-Josef Selig is (Daland), Michael König (Erik) and Benjamin Bruns (Steuermann), once again all making their Bayreuth debut.

Parsifal will have a new conductor in Swiss-born Philippe Jordan and the latest singer of the title role is Burkhard Fritz. Sebastian Baumgarten’s new eco-Tannhäuser received mixed (to say the least) reviews last year though I wasn’t completely ‘anti’ it and it has received a boost with the news that – in only its second year – Christian Thielemann has taken over the baton from Thomas Hengelbrock. The ratty – and I mean that with affection – Lohengrin of Hans Neuenfels returns conducted, as before, by Andris Nelsons. A DVD of last year’s cast will be released later this year and for 2012 there are some small cast changes although Klaus Florian Vogt and Annette Dasch return as Lohengrin and Elsa. This year Bayreuth Kundry Susan Maclean debuts as Ortrud but will find Petra Lang a hard act to follow, Wilhelm Schwinghammer sings for the first time at Bayreuth as King Henry and he is joined by another German ‘new boy’ Thomas J Mayer is Telramund. Mayer whilst unknown then to me was a superb substitute Wotan in Hamburg when I saw him in 2008 and his presence on the Green Hill is interesting if we consider a new Ring Cycle is in the offing. Concluding the operas being staged this year is the final performances of Christoph Marthaler’s 2005 Tristan und Isolde (revived by Anna-Sophie Mahler)conducted once again by Bayreuth veteran Peter Schneider. Also retuning are its familiar cast lead by Robert Dean Smith (Tristan), Iréne Theorin (Isolde) and Robert Holl (Marke). Joint Festival director Katharina Wagner’s new Tristan is scheduled for 2015.

For readers of German the Bayreuth Festival website contains complete details of these performances ( www.bayreuther-festspiele.de ) and much other interesting information. Unfortunately the English version of this site is not updated so frequently at present. There are a number of pre-performance talks given in Bayreuth for the these annual performance, including some under the auspices of the Festival itself, but for German speakers one reliable event that shouldn’t be missed is the series of lecture-concerts by Stefan Mickisch who introduces that day’s opera at the Evangelisches Gemeindehaus (www.mickisch.de) in central Bayreuth. These events always draw large audiences and are worth going to even by people with little knowledge of the language as his Wagner piano playing is so marvellous and the musical connections to other composers he makes are clear for all to hear.

I will report on all the five operas of the 2012 Bayreuth Festival on this site in late August and early September.

Jim Pritchard