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Culture

Bayreuth Makes Room for a New Generation

The Bayreuth Festival will feature more unconventional young directors in 2003. German hacks are wondering whether it's the beginning of a new era.

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Composer Richard Wagner's grandson Wolfgang is on the lookout for "unspent talents."


Claus Guth's new production of "The Flying Dutchman" will open the Bayreuth Festival, the yearly series of performances that has showcased Richard Wagner's operas since 1876, on July 25. For decades, festival head Wolfgang Wagner has dominated Bayreuth with his own productions of his grandfathers' works. But last year the 83-year-old announced he would no longer work as a director.

Now Bayreuth is opening up to a younger generation. Wagner, who has led the festival for more than 50 years, seems to have lost interest in staging traditional productions.

Like the 39-year-old Guth, Marc Albrecht, who will conduct "The Flying Dutchman," is under 40 and new to Bayreuth. Wagner engaged the two men to put on a production at the renowned festival after the two were acclaimed for their world premiere of Peter Ruzicka's opera "Celan" in Dresden in 2001.

Rabble-rousers left and right

Schlingensief - Quiz 3000

Christoph Schlingensief on stage in Frankfurt

Next year, one of Germany's most famous provocateurs, Christoph Schlingensief, will present his version of "Parsifal." Swiss enfant terrible Christoph Marthaler will stage "Tristan and Isolde" in 2005. And the controversial Danish film director Lars von Trier, who has enjoyed a career of shocking audiences with his dogma style films, will have his chance to stage "The Ring of the Nibelungen" in 2006.

Wolfgang Wagner and his troop of new faces aren't afraid of creating a stir like Patrice Chéreau did on the 100th anniversary of the festival with his legendary interpretation of "The Ring of the Nibelungen." Chéreau's Götterdämmerung was followed by more than thirty minutes of emphatic 'bravos' and enraged insults, but in the end the Frenchman's production breathed new life into Bayreuth, changing the festival from a yearly homage to Wagner to a theater workshop.

No iconoclasts here

"Schlingensief, Marthaler and von Trier aren't iconoclasts who will destroy Wagner's temple," festival spokesman Peter Emmerich recently placated potential critics. "The point is to find contemporary interpretations that justify the singularity and necessity for Bayreuth in the future."

Throughout his life Richard Wagner was dedicated to both art and politics, and his works were often a shock for contemporaneous audiences. Over time he gained a reputation for being a provocateur himself.

Christoph Schlingensief

Christoph Schlingensief

"It was a strange moment when the phone call came. I had wished for it for years," Schlingensief (photo) told Deutsche Welle. The theater director admitted he wasn't an expert on opera. When it comes to Wagner, he said he's mainly interested in the composer's political thought and his focus on bringing the divine down to earth.

But Schlingensief doesn't intend to play the role of rabble-rouser which German audiences have come to expect of him. Instead, he said he just wants to make musical theater. "Music is a command from inside! It brings the images out of me that were there before they were exposed."

German theater critics have been regarding the new trend in Bayreuth with skepticism and curious anticipation. The head of the German Theater Association, Klaus Zehelein, fears the event will "ultimately lack thought, a concept and a vision."

But festival director Wolfgang Wagner doesn't have to worry about winning the audience's favor. "We are 9.9 times overbooked," the ticket sales office has announced.

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