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Wagner festival director reveals plans for 2021

Anastassia Boutsko
July 5, 2021

After last year's cancellation of the Bayreuth festival due to the pandemic, what can the audience expect? We spoke to festival director Katharina Wagner.

Close-up picture of Katharina Wagner
Katharina Wagner is dedicated to keeping her great-grandfather's work alive in the 21st centuryImage: Enrico Nawrath

The pandemic situation left many questions unanswered until the last minute: Would the Bayreuth Festival take place this year? As a digital event or with an audience? And if so, how many visitors would be allowed into the Bayreuth Festival Theater?

Although the outlook on COVID regulations remains uncertain, tickets for the festival are now available online.   

Festival director Katharina Wagner spoke to DW about the latest plans for the coming season.


DW: In three weeks' time, the Bayreuth Festival will open with a premiere of "The Flying Dutchman." What should we look forward to, despite these difficult circumstances? What will the festival be like? Will it be digital, analogue or take on a hybrid shape?

Katharina Wagner: There's a total of 25 events taking place at the Bayreuth Festival Theater, as well as other formats outside the concert hall. There's also the children's opera in the Reichshof [a well-known venue in Bayreuth, editor's note]. None other than Stephen Gould will sing "Tristan" in the children's opera.

This will all be accompanied by various digital formats that complement the festival and bring it further to life. Our main focus is on the live experience of the performances at the main theater with a live audience.

The "Ring des Nibelungen” will be directed by Valentin Schwarz and performed under the musical direction of Pietari Inkinen. Currently, there are some rather promising preliminary rehearsals underway.

Lohengrin staging: Children with boxes on their heads and a man wearing a red suit.
Since 2009, there has been a Wagner production at the festival each year aimed for childrenImage: BF Medien GmbH / Jörg Schulze

How will the ticket sales take place this year, and how many of the approximately 2,000 seats in the Bareuth Festival Theater may be filled?

We will have our online tickets available starting at 2 p.m. on July 4, where all interested parties will have the opportunity to purchase tickets. The seating capacity will be determined according to the official requirements, which currently stands at 911 seats.

A major part of the Ring des Nibelungen will be performed outside the festival theater hall this year; the staging was led by visual artists and performers. Tell us more about this particular project.

Originally, we had planned to perform the entire "Ring des Nibelungen" this year, but it became increasingly important to us to present the Ring to the audience in a different form and to continue to take it in different artistic directions and make it accessible to the public this way.

I am particularly looking forward to the world premiere of the performance of "Rheingold-Immer noch Loge" by the young team around Gordon Kampe, Paulus Hochgatterer and the star director Nikolaus Habjan.

Renowned visual artist Hermann Nitsch will design the Valkyrie, Pietari Inkinen will conduct, Jay Scheib will transport the audience into a virtual dragon fight, and Chiharu Shiota will complete the "Ring 20.21" with an artistic installation in the Festival Park.

Blue sculpture of Richard Wagner
A Richard Wagner sculpture by artist Ottmar Hoerl outside the opera house in BayreuthImage: Reuters

How important are ideas and interpretations by people like Nikolaus Habjan, Chiharu Shiota, Jay Scheib for future of Ring performances, indeed for all Wagner productions?

Such ideas and interpretations are very important. We will use virtual reality to represent Siegfried in "Ring 20.21." US director, playwright and artist Jay Scheib us renowned for his contemporary productions of classical and new plays and operas.

What led you to hire Hermann Nitsch, a radical artist with a lifelong fascination with Wagner?

Hermann Nitsch is a luminary as a visual artist whose works are known well beyond Austria. We knew that he would see his lifelong dream fulfilled if he were to work in Bayreuth. That's why on stage, we've reserved space for painting, actions and processions.

Pictue of Nikolaus Habjan with a puppet
Puppetry in Bayreuth: director Nikolaus Habjan will be in charge of 'Rheingold' this yearImage: Herbert Neubauer/APA/picturedesk.com/picture alliance

Oksana Lyniv is the first woman to take the conductor's podium in Bayreuth. She told DW that in terms of height she is just the right person to conduct there, as she is almost exactly the same height as Richard Wagner was, and can therefore conduct standing up — unlike her typically taller, male colleagues. But surely this is not the main reason why you chose Oksana Lyniv as a woman to enter this male domain?

Oksana Lyniv is indeed the first female conductor of a festival production, and we are very curious to see how she will master this great task.

People talk about fundamental changes in the cultural world as a result of COVID: There's talk of digital participation, dwindling audiences, and the overall erosion of artistic realms. What has changed in Bayreuth because of the pandemic?

Last year, there was the painful cancellation of the event. But on the other hand, there was also a great deal of encouragement and support from our audiences, especially in the shape of donations made to us. This year, we all hope for a return to that unique live experience, which everyone, including the artists and performers, has missed so much.

A drag performer sings in a park in Bayreuth in 2019.
Outdoors performances will play a greater role in Bayreuth in 2021, working around COVID-related restrictionsImage: Tobias Hase/dpa/picture alliance

What are your plans for the next few seasons — and where do you think Bayreuth can, and should, be in 10 years' time?

The artistic plans currently extend to 2026, and I'm doing everything I can to ensure that the Festival remains artistically innovative and, at the same time, economically viable for the future.

Opera director Katharina Wagner is the great-granddaughter of composer Richard Wagner. She has been at the helm of the Bayreuth Festival since 2008. The festival was founded by Richard Wagner in 1876 for the performance of his works. In 2020, the now 43-year-old fell into a coma for six weeks due to a long-term illness, but returned to continue her work in mid-September 2020.

The fascinating Bayreuth Festival


The interview was translated from German.