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Culture

Wagner for the Masses?

Celebrities from the world over are walking the red carpet at the Bayreuth festival. But how do mere mortals get their hands on a coveted ticket?

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Oh, to be among the blessed ticket holders...

The new production by Swiss director Christoph Marthaler of "Tristan and Isolde" opened the 94th Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. Until August 28, some 60,000 people will have the opportunity to hear works from the master performed in the festival hall he designed himself.

Richard Wagner Festival 2005 Tristan und Isolde

"Tristan und Isolde"

Those who actually managed to get tickets can count themselves extremely lucky, since they've been sold out for quite some time now. The demand outpaced supply this year by a factor of 10, as usual.

"Unfortunately, visitors have to count on a waiting time for tickets from between eight and ten years," said Peter Emmerich, spokesman for the festival.

Black-market boom

Opera lovers who either can't or don't want to wait that long basically have two choices: they can work their connections, if they have any, or turn to the black market. While the connection option is a desired one, most people who want a ticket often have to try the other road.

Everything these days is available on the Internet and festival tickets are no exception. But most online prices range from 310 to 1,200 euros ($373 to $1,446). The US ticket seller, Ticket-Finder.com, is honest about the price it's asking for a ticket to Tristan II, up to $2,717: "The price is arrived at taking into consideration the costs for the ticket, taxes and the great demand for a limited supply. That means the price can increase by up to 500 percent."

Angela Merkel in Bayreuth

Angela Merkel, chancellor candidate of the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, waves to spectators as she arrives for the opening of the Wagner Opera festival in Bayreuth, southern Germany, Monday, July 25, 2005.

Those prices are astronomical, especially when one considers that the most expensive ticket at the official outlets costs 192 euros. This price is arrived at due to the fact that the state provides subsidies for the tickets and the organization committee. The purpose of these public monies is to make the festival affordable for the average person.

Little action taken

The organizers of the festival are aware of the black market problem, but they have hardly any legal room to take action against the high prices and rampant reselling. Random inspections of tickets at the entrance to performances are carried out sometimes to check that the buyer is the one using the ticket for entry to a performance, but buyers face no real consequences -- despite rumors to the contrary.

"The highest priority in Bayreuth is and will remain the comfort and enjoyment of the festival by our visitors. That means tickets are transferable," said Emmerich.

Festival fans who want legitimate, and affordable, tickets have a rocky road ahead of them: get an order form from the festival ticket office, fill it out and start hoping.

"We take great pains to be fair in the distribution of tickets. We take into consideration how long someone has been on the waiting list," said Emmerich. "The longer the wait, the greater the chance there is of getting a ticket."

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Exceptions, of course, prove the rule. Festival veterans report that there is actually a chance to get affordable tickets at the festival itself. The secret is to go to the official tickets outlets and ask about tickets that have been handed back in.

Ebay - Screenshot

It's possible to score this way, but Lady Luck has to be on your side, or you have to count on the misfortune and fairness of other Wagner fans who might have waited years to get the precious tickets, but for some reason couldn't use them, and handed them back in. Others choose the Internet auction route.


"I was so happy," wrote Mercedes200869, who auctioned two tickets on eBay. "But my boyfriend can't come with me, my best friend is on vacation and another one can't come for sure because of her child. I didn't want to go alone to an experience like this, which you don't get offered that often in life. Especially not alone. So after long consideration, I decided to part with my two tickets."

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