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Bayreuth Festival opens to mark 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth

Germany's legendary Bayreuth Festival has opened, marking the 200th anniversary of Richard Wagner's birth. The highlight of the festival will be the much-anticipated production of the composer's four-opera "Ring" cycle.

Crowds gathered in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth on Thursday to see Germany's rich and famous converge on the famous Festspielhaus theater. Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck were the marquee guests at the festival's opening performance of "The Flying Dutchman," staged by Jan Philip Gloger.

For the first time, the opening night festivities were broadcast live to some 200 select cinemas worldwide and on public television.

But the highlight of the popular festival, for which the waiting list for tickets is often 10 years or longer, will be the entirely new production of Wagner's epic "Der Ring des Nibelungen" ("The Ring of the Nibelung"). It will be directed by Frank Castorf, the general director of Berlin's Volksbühne Theater, who often frustrates Germany's theater-going public with his highly altered reinterpretations of classic works.

Hard at work

The great-granddaughter of Wagner, festival chief Katharina Wagner, said in a news conference earlier on Thursday that rehearsals with the Castorf had been "extremely productive."

Watch video 03:24

Wagner Figures in Bayreuth

Castorf, 62, had criticized the working conditions of the Festspielhaus, which is currently covered in construction scaffolding due to its dilapidated condition, but had told journalists that working in the historic theater was a "very special challenge."

The Bayreuth Festival runs until August 28 and features 30 performances of seven different operas: the four operas that consist of the "Ring," along with "The Flying Dutchman," "Tannhäuser" and "Lohengrin."

A number of other artistic activities can be seen over the course of the festival as well, including Ottmar Hörl's exhibition of 500 Wagnerian plastic figures and an information panel detailing the fate of Jewish performers in Bayreuth.

dr/tm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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