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Curtain up on Wolfgang Wagner's last Bayreuth

AFP · 26 Jul 2008, 09:04

Published: 26 Jul 2008 09:04 GMT+02:00

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The glitzy first night of the annual summer Wagner spectacular was attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Bavarian state premier Guenther Beckstein, conservative CSU leader Erwin Huber and head of the opposition liberal party, Guido Westerwelle.

On the bill was a brand-new production of Wagner's final opera, "Parsifal", by Norwegian director Stefan Herheim, with Italian maestro Daniele Gatti also making his debut in the legendary Festspielhaus theatre built to the composer's own designs.

Wolfgang Wagner, who turns 89 on August 30, is stepping down this year after an astonishing 57 years on Bayreuth's throne.

The increasingly frail white-haired autocrat is expected to hand over the reins to his two daughters, 30-year-old Katharina and her much older half sister, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 63.

At an official reception prior to the performance, German culture minister Bernd Naumann hailed Wolfgang Wagner's achievement. In more than five decades as both festival chief and stage director, he had left an indelible mark on the international world of opera, Naumann said.

The minister expressed confidence that a "solid and sustainable solution" would be found to the succession issue. The official decision as to who will succeed Wolfgang is to be taken by the festival's ruling body, the Stiftungsrat, later this month.

Katharina, whose own production of "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" is being revived for the first time this year after its critically-panned premiere last year, said at the reception that her father was both sad and happy about his retirement.

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"At nearly 89 years old, he's earned his retirement," she said.

Wolfgang Wagner had repeatedly brought controversial directors to Bayreuth and "made the festival what it is today," she continued.

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