The annual Bayreuth Festival is now under the auspices of the fourth generation of the famous Wagner family, who have applied a fresh approach to multi-media exploitation and a new means of distribution. But what next?
Katharina Wagner, 33, and her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 66, have been co-directors of the Bayreuther Festspiele, or Bayreuth Festival, for the past two years. As far as division of labor is concerned, it's the younger sister who takes care of PR and is the voice of the festival for the press.
In an exclusive interview with Deutsche Welle, Katharina Wagner explains what changes have been made to the festival program and what visitors to this year's event can expect - beginning with a new production of Richard Wagner's opera "Tannhäuser," which opens on July 25.
Deutsche Welle: A new director arrives in Bayreuth every year: Christoph Schlingensief, Stefan Herheim, and now Sebastian Baumgarten. Is this the beginning of a new generation for the Bayreuth Festival and what does Baumgarten's arrival signify?
Katharina Wagner: With directors, it's not only important that they have ideas but also that they have a command of the artistry involved. That's definitely something Sebastian Baumgarten can do and he brings with it some very interesting conceptual approaches. It's often the case that with some production or other you think to yourself, "Well, yes, interesting concept, but there's a hole here somewhere" or "artistically that was perfect but the conceptualization was boring." But when the artistry and the creativity come together, then that makes a great director and that's something I definitely see in Sebastian Baumgarten.
The stage designer for the new production of "Tannhäuser" is the Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout, who himself is actually a visual artist. How do you see the worlds of fine art and stage design coming together?
Admittedly, those are two very different kinds of work, but when something like this is suggested by the director, then of course it's a very welcome idea. Joep van Lieshout has really come up with a very stunning stage design; one could almost call it an "installation" and I think that is going to match extremely well with Baumgarten's direction.
Might that not be slightly difficult to digest for the normally conservative audience?
There's even a 'Tannhäuser' opera for kids
I don't think any director comes to Bayreuth with the specific intention to provoke. Having said that, I am also against the idea of having to explain everything to an audience, almost like handing out little instruction leaflets advising them of how the whole production is supposed to work. I'd rather let the audience figure that out for themselves and while the Bayreuth audience does tend toward conservatism, they are also able to think. If you consider that some people have to wait 10 years to get their hands on a ticket, well, they ought to have some idea of what to expect here. I'm absolutely against explaining a production to the audience. That immediately makes it uninteresting.
Your own production of "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" is being staged this year for the last time. What is next for you as a stage director?
The plan is to stage "Tristan and Isolde" in 2015 together with the conductor Christian Thielemann.
And as festival director?
Absolutely "The Ring." The big challenge at the moment are the continuing negotiations with the stage director, which are still in progress but, I have to say, proceeding very well. Something else which is very important is the Wagner Year celebrations. This will see us present Wagner's early works: "Rienzi," "The Ban on Love" and "The Fairies." There will be a commemorative birthday concert in 2013 which is being presented by BF-Medien. So a production of "The Ring," three productions of early works and a birthday concert. I have quite a lot to do!
You seem to be deliberately avoiding saying who will direct the production of "The Ring."
Well, as I mentioned, this is still being discussed at a contractual level and until it's set down on paper and signed, I'm not saying anything. I'm not crazy!
The half-sisters are equal managing and artistic partners
What are your plans to strengthen the Bayreuth Festival as a brand?
This is something which I really see developing more in terms of new media, with things like podcasts and outdoor viewings, for example. We were also involved this year with our first live TV broadcast of a production of "Lohengrin," which will be broadcast on "Arte." We've been a little behind on such things, perhaps, but we're catching up.
What about the reception to Wagner abroad? For example, you have recently been engaged as a director in Argentina...
That's right, that's for a condensed version of "The Ring," a selection of key moments in seven hours, as it were. I was sent the music for this version and was very impressed with it both musically and conceptually, I thought it would certainly be possible to stage this version and so I will go to Buenos Aries to direct it.
What do you think this condensed version will bring to Argentina?
I think principally, with a regular performance of "The Ring," a lot of people might think, well, four days - that's a long time and a lot of money and I'm more or less going to have to take vacation just to see it all, but with an edited version which takes place on only one day, that's something perhaps a bit more manageable.
Interview: Hans Christoph von Bock / gb
Editor: Louisa Schaefer