The festival, which runs until August 28, narrowly avoided disaster this year when a threatened strike by 140 stage technicians, represented by trade union Verdi, was avoided at the last minute by an agreement reached on Friday evening.
A new series entitled “Wagner for Kids” will also be introduced to the festival this year, with 10 performances of a specially adapted version of The Flying Dutchman made palatable for six-to-10 year-olds.
This year also sees a repeat of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg in Katharina Wagner’s uproarious staging, which enters its third year. At its premiere in 2007, it was roundly booed by audiences and divided the critics. Last year the production became the first from Bayreuth to be broadcast over the internet and was also shown in a free public-viewing. It has since been released on DVD.
31-year-old Katharina, great-grand-daughter of the composer, has taken over the running of Bayreuth along with her much older half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 64. Their father, Wolfgang, who turns 90 in August and has ruled Bayreuth with an iron fist since 1951, stepped down in August 2008.
Tickets for the festival are notoriously hard to come by. Every year, the Bayreuth ticket office receives applications for eight or nine times the actual number of tickets on sale — just under 60,000 for 30 performances of seven different Wagner operas.
Estimates suggest it can take up to 10 years to receive tickets. The application form must be completed and sent off as soon as the tickets go on sale in the autumn. Applicants who miss a year get sent back to the bottom of the list.
But the waiting list can be shorter depending on which operas are applied for and when. Applicants who insist on attending only the premieres of the new productions will wait the longest – press reports this year put the waiting period at 13 years.
And those who want to see the complete “Ring” – Wagner’s mammoth 16-hour four-opera cycle – the waiting list is also longer because tickets can only be bought for all of it, not piecemeal.