″I Stay Out of All the Wagner Family Disputes″ | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 24.07.2007

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"I Stay Out of All the Wagner Family Disputes"

Who will be the next to take the throne at the world-famous Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, which starts Wedensday? DW spoke with the most likely candidate, Richard Wagner's great-granddaughter Katharina.

Katharina Wagner directed the Meistersinger for this year's Bayreuth Festival

Katharina Wagner directed the "Meistersinger" for this year's Bayreuth Festival

Ever since Wolfgang Wagner, director of the Bayreuth Festival and the composer's grandson, announced in 1999 that the search for a worthy successor was underway, festival fans and classical music connoisseurs have been hotly speculating on the lucky heir.

The 88-year-old impresario's daughter Katharina, 29, now seems to have emerged as a favorite for the job, stepping ahead of her older sister Eva and cousin Nike, both twice her age. Katharina Wagner will make her
Bayreuth Festival directing debut on July 25, the opening night, with her staging of Richard Wagner's "Meistersinger von Nürnberg."

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner founded the festival in 1876

DW: The press tends to write about the Wagners as a kind of royal family. Does that bother you? How do you deal with that?

Katharina Wagner: You're born with your name, you can't choose it. Of course, you could say, if I'd become a lawyer, I wouldn't have to deal with all this, but I love my career as stage director. I try to separate my private life from my work and I hope that I'm not always viewed as a Wagner but as an independent artist.

When I give an interview or take a position on my work, I don't do that as Katharina Wagner, great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner, but as the director of "Meistersinger von Nürnberg." I'm not any more interesting because I am related to a famous composer; that was his achievement and not mine -- and I'd rather talk about mine.

Do you have contact with your family members who are also well-known figures in the music world?

No, I stay out of all the family disputes.

Is going to Bayreuth like going home for you?

Of course, I know the house quite well and all the customs there, which is a certain advantage. On the other hand, the pressure on directors there -- and not just me, but all my colleagues -- is very high.

You grew up and learned there in the house. What is it like to come back as a director?

The people know what I can and what I can't do, so I don't think there'll be any authority problems. I was an assistant for years and they all know me. I don't have a problem with it, but I can't speak for the others.

Wolfgang Wagner

Katharina's father Wolfgang has directed the festival for 40 years

What did you learn from your father that is indispensable for you in your career today?

The technical know-how. Although my father and I clearly follow very different aesthetic lines, there's a basis of technique that every stage director needs and I learned this from my father. For example, how people stand on the stage, making it appear as if they're looking at each other while they can also see the monitors -- practical things that you need to direct.

Why "Meistersinger von Nürnberg"?

When a piece is offered to me, I think about whether it says something to me. It that case, it did. If my father had offered me "Tristan" instead three years ago, I would've said, "Not yet." Now I could manage it, but three years ago I wouldn't have done it.

Could you give a few examples of how your aesthetic ideas differ from your father's?

As far as costumes go, my father prefers historical or timeless styles -- he always has historical elements, even in his more timeless productions. But I prefer modern clothing, also because of the movement. That's a concrete example.

Where did you set your "Meistersinger"?

Not in the Middle Ages. It's also not important that it takes place in Nuremberg. For me, Nuremberg is a synonym for a spiritual location. My production takes place in a room with very many doors, that's also extremely closed and seems very heavy. Ultimately, new impulses from the outside come in -- the Nuremberg system can't exist any more as it did and Nuremberg changes at the end of the second act.

Innovation collides with tradition, which for me is the most exiting issues in the opera, that these master singers are really a big art class. And that's one of the biggest questions: What's the relationship between innovation and tradition, and art -- or the artist -- and society?

Bayreuth Festspielhaus

Some wait for years to get tickets

In reference to you becoming the next festival director, your father has said, "If she can, then she should." How do you see this statement?

That's typical of my father. Whoever knows my father will know that that's original Wolfgang Wagner. Although he said, "If she can and wants to."

Which conditions have to be met for you to accept the position?

It doesn't only depend on me. It mostly depends on other people. At the moment, my father is both manager and director in one and this constellation will change. There will be four managers. These four people have high expectations for a festival director, which I don't know if I can fulfill. It's also a matter that needs to be discussed -- what do the managers expect, what do I expect from them. These things just all have to fit.

What's the most important condition for you?

That the artistic quality remains.

Dieter David Scholz interviewed Katharina Wagner (kjb)

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