The curtain goes up in at the Bayreuth Festival on July 25, 2012, to a new production of Richard Wagner's Romantic opera "The Flying Dutchman" - but what everyone seems to be talking about is still a year away.
At the opening of the Bayreuth Festival, politicians, celebrities and journalists from around the world will settle into hard wooden seats to spend three hours with Richard Wagner's Romantic opera "The Flying Dutchman," presented this year in a new production by director Jan Philipp Gloger and conductor Christian Thielemann. "Tristan and Isolde," "Lohengrin," "Tannhäuser" and "Parsifal" are also on this year's program - in productions that have run previously at the event.
In the festival theater he created, Richard Wagner wanted to orchestrate the perfect mix of music, scenery, motion and dramatic effects for his Gesamtkunstwerk. Wagner wrote "The Flying Dutchman" when he was 30 years old - before he had even begun to think in terms of creating an all-encompassing work of art or his own theater.
The director behind the new production is also just over 30 years old: Jan Philipp Gloger. He described his first impressions of Bayreuth as such, "The atmosphere here was a positive surprise for me - the rarefied air of a protected place, far removed from everything else. That has the advantage that everyone is right here and cannot make a quick escape home. You are isolated, and that is not a bad thing for doing concentrated work."
Nuts and bolts conducting
Creating an environment of that sort was Wagner's intention: a secluded place where concentration comes more easily. Bayreuth remains a location that is quite difficult to reach using public transportation. But that doesn't stop the thousands of hopeful festival attendees from signing up for the waiting list of the perennially sold out event.
Christian Thielemann, musical advisor for the festival, conducts the orchestra in the "Dutchman" production premiering on July 25.
"The Flying Dutchman is the most difficult piece that I have ever done here because it is actually not written for this orchestra pit. It has massive instrumentation, so the conductor has to do a lot of steering. You spend the whole evening working on the nuts and bolts, but there's supposed to be some spontaneity, as well!" the conductor commented, gesturing toward the covered orchestra pit, which lies largely underneath the stage.
Looking ahead to a milestone
But public interest has so far gravitated away from this year's new production and toward 2013 - a celebratory year. Next year will mark 200 years since Wagner's birth and 130 years since his death. In honor of the occasion, the four-part opera cycle "The Ring of the Nibelung" will be restaged, with rehearsals beginning in August of this year.
Alongside the festival's centerpiece, there will be a birthday concert on May 22, a film contest and, in a new move for Bayreuth, the presentation of three of Wagner's early works: "The Fairies," "The Ban on Love" and "Rienzi" - each performed outside of the regular festival season.
In addition, there will be a shortened version of the Ring cycle - though still clocking in at seven hours - produced by festival head Katharina Wagner. It will make its way to the stage at the Theatro Colon in Buenos Aires in November 2012, and DW will transmit the performance as a livestream online.
The Bayreuth Festival has expanded its multimedia offerings in recent years with public viewings of select productions, kids' operas on the festival grounds, streaming Internet shows and open rehearsals for journalists. And now Wagner is even set to hit movie theaters. On August 11, "Parsifal" will be presented live in numerous theaters in Germany, Austria and Switzerland - in its current festival incarnation, staged by Stefan Herheim. Herheim's striking and varied set design and effects promise a great film experience.
The "Wagner for everybody" motto and the clear turn toward more modern interpretations of Wagner's musical dramas - it remains controversial whether these approaches will strengthen or water down the festival steeped in tradition. But, as always, the event will offer plenty to get music lovers talking.
Author: Rick Fulker