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Bayreuth Festival irks crew with stricter security measures

Rick Fulker
June 22, 2016

Guarding against terrorist attacks, the theater housing the annual Bayreuth Festival has been cordoned off. Production teams for the opera event say the increased security measures are ruining the festival's atmosphere.

Security fences near the Bayreuther Festspielhaus in June 2016, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Schultejans
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Schultejans

The normally laid-back ambience of the Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth seems to belong to the past as production teams now rehearsing ahead of the opera extravaganza are subjected to elaborate identity checks.

Stage director Uwe Eric Laufenberg referred to exasperated performers, telling news agency dpa, "The singers are all complaining about having to constantly show identity cards and fill out forms. Nobody is pleased that everything here - simply everything - has become complicated and bureaucratic."

Laufenberg directs the stage action in the new production of "Parsifal," conducted by Andris Nelsons and opening the festival on July 25.

"It is clear that the security situation is different from last year - everywhere," Bayreuth Festival press spokesman Peter Emmerich responded. "That applies to cultural and sports events in equal measure."

Additionally, journalists reporting on the red-carpet welcome of celebrities on opening day will, for the first time, be required to register with the festival in advance, "in light of necessary security measures," declared the city of Bayreuth in a statement repeated by local police. The additional security comes at an unknown cost but said to exceed one million euros ($1.13 million).

Bayreuth - a labor of love

Laufenberg, for his part, pointed to the labor of love that artists are expected to bring to the Bayreuth Festival: "Many make a point of coming here because they want to and because they can spend their vacations here."

However, added the director, "If somebody wants to bring his wife along or pass the entrance with his child, that's impossible at the moment."

Identity checks have been routine at the Bayreuth Festival for a number of years, so it is unclear how much the latest enhanced security is a step up from the norm - or how it will impact the thousands of visitors over the course of the five-week festival.

Most key artists are expected to remain in Bayreuth continuously during the festival rehearsal period, beginning in early June, and intermittently until the end of the final performance on August 28. With few distractions in the small Bavarian city, the festival has traditionally invoked its family-like ambience as a special quality.

The sight of Wagner's Festspielhaus theater behind expansive, policed barricades on opening day would in fact be a departure from the images familiar to the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was reported, will not attend on opening day due to other commitments. She has been a regular guest in the past.

Rumors that the new staging of Wagner's opera "Parsifal" includes Islam-critical content were dispelled by stage director Uwe Eric Laufenberg. "There is s brief reference to Islam in 'Parsifal,'" he said, "but this piece doesn't revolve around Islam. It's about Christianity."

Uwe Eric Laufenberg. (c) dpa - Bildfunk
'They don't come here for the money,' says Uwe Eric Laufenberg about artistsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Fredrik von Erichsen
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