Germany′s culture elite gears up for Bayreuth | Music | DW | 24.07.2015
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Germany's culture elite gears up for Bayreuth

It's all about the operas of Richard Wagner - but it's also about dressing up and being seen on the red carpet. The Bayreuth Festival opens with pomp, management changes, and a new production.

Heading the list of VIPs at the opening of the Bayreuth Festival on Saturday (25.07.2015) is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, joined by German Parliament President Norbert Lammert, Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer, Slovakian President Andrei Kiska and American Ambassador John B. Emerson.

The guest list also includes the ambassadors of Austria, Japan, South Korea, France, the Czech Republic and Turkey. Three German cabinet ministers are expected, including Monika Grütters, Minister of Culture and Media, as are a list of German celebrities headed by Princess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis.

Conductor Christian Thielemann has taken on the newly created position of Music Director, though his exact responsibilities are still unclear. But along with coordinating the orchestra - constituted by professionals from other orchestras who gather yearly in Bayreuth at festival time -, he will be responsible for all musical matters, including casting and the selection of other conductors.

These are responsibilities that Thielemann will assume in part from departing festival co-director Eva Wagner-Pasquier. Her seven-year contract has expired, and she will serve in an advisory role after the current season, with her half-sister Katharina Wagner acting as sole festival director.

Angela Merkel at least year's Event with stepson Daniel Sauer and former Hamburg mayor, Klaus von Dohnanyi, Photo: David Ebener/dpa

Angela Merkel at least year's Event with stepson Daniel Sauer and former Hamburg mayor, Klaus von Dohnanyi

Tristan gives the downbeat

The festival, now in its 104th season, opens on Saturday with a new production of Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan and Isolde," staged by Katharina Wagner and conducted by Thielemann. It is the second stage production in Bayreuth by the great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner, the first having been "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" in 2008. Since Katharina Wagner's version of "Mastersingers" has consistently been booed by audiences and panned by critics, expectations are mixed for "Tristan," though it could point to future trends at the Bayreuth Festival.

Wagner's tale of a forbidden love premiered 150 years ago in Munich, was considered unperformable then and has vexed production teams and stressed singers ever since.

Over the next six weeks, the program will continue with repeat performances of "Tristan" as well as "The Ring of the Nibelung," "Lohengrin" and "The Flying Dutchman" in now-familiar stage presentations from earlier seasons.

Katharina Wagner and Christian Thielemann. Photo: dpa - Bildfunk+

The dream team in Bayreuth? Katharina Wagner and Christian Thielemann

Watch in the theater and on TV

While French conductor Alain Altinoglu gives his Bayreuth debut with "Lohengrin" on July 26, the celebrated Russian maestro Kirill Petrenko will conduct the four-opera "Ring" cycle here for the final time. Petrenko had announced his intention to move on even before he was elected as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra's future music director.

According to the Bayreuth Festival press office, the series of events is sold out - not years in advance, however, as in the past, but only in recent weeks. Opera-goers in Germany who cannot attend have the option of watching the new production of "Tristan and Isolde" in movie theaters on August 7 and on television on August 8.

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