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Opera Family Business

DW staff (jen)
June 3, 2007

With less than two months to go before a make-or-break debut, the family of Katherina Wagner is still pressing for her to take over the reins at the Bayreuth opera festival.

Wagner's avant-garde staging of Puccini was booed in Berlin, in 2006Image: AP

When the curtain goes up July 25 in Bayreuth on 29-year-old Katharina Wagner's production of "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," the opera world will be watching very, very closely.

It will be watching not just to see whether her direction will be controversial or, as it has happened in the past, roundly panned. They will be straining to see what the future of the famed Bayreuth opera festival might look like.

92. Bayreuther Richard Wagner Festspielen
The Wagner family: Gudrun (left), Wolfgang and KatharinaImage: AP

Wagner recently told the Munich newspaper Münchner Merkur that she felt ready to take charge of the summer festival, an annual high-profile magnet for the world's music lovers that was founded by her great-grandfather, the operatic composer Richard Wagner.

Family feud

Much ink has been spilled to date detailing the Wagner family's ongoing feud over who should run the festival. At different times, Wolfgang's other daughter by an earlier marriage, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, and Nike Wagner, the daughter of Wolfgang's late brother Wieland, have both laid claim to the throne on Bayreuth's fabled Green Hill.

04.01.2006 k21 katharina wagner 1a
Young Wagner has been on a fast track to the topImage: DW-TV

Many see Katharina Wagner, Wolfgang's daughter with his current wife Gudrun, as the person who is least capable of keeping audiences interested in the conservative but well-loved festival. To date, Katharina's high-profile opera debuts have been ill received. In 2006, Berlin audiences booed the opening night performance of Puccini's "Il Trittico" staged by the young Wagner.

But Katharina's father and mother have held firm in their apparent resolve to have her take the reins from Wolfgang Wagner, who is 87 and has a lifetime contract with the Bayreuth festival. Only Wolfgang can terminate his contract, according to his 62-year-old wife.

Much riding on "Mastersinger"

Bildergalerie Angela Merkel Bild12
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends Bayreuth every yearImage: dpa

Due to arthritis, Wolfgang Wagner can now only walk with difficulty, Gudrun Wagner said.

In an interview published Wednesday by the German weekly Bunte, Gudrun Wagner said: "A Wagner always runs Bayreuth. Not keeping it in the family would mean unnecessarily abandoning something that exists nowhere else in the world."

Several years ago the director failed in a bid to install Gudrun – who used to be Wolfgang Wagner's secretary and is now widely seen as the power behind the throne at the festival -- as his successor.

Now, if the audience of Wagner lovers accept the daughter's first Bayreuth production in July, her succession is seen as certain.

Contenders to the throne

Gudrun Wagner said in the interview that her daughter was "a very able artist and cultural manager who knows the ropes."

Nike Wagner Kunstfest Weimar
Nike Wagner heads the Weimar arts festivalImage: Christin Losta

Another great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner, Nike Wagner, 61, has repeatedly voiced a desire to take over the "family business." She is the daughter of Wieland Wagner, the late brother of Wolfgang Wagner, and an accomplished stage and opera director.

But Katharina Wagner told Muenchner Merkur last week: "If the shareholders agree and I am satisfied with the terms, I would be ready to take over." She said she would not be happy to share the leadership in a team arrangement.

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