The 99th edition of the annual month-long summer music fest dedicated exclusively to Wagner’s works begins Sunday and will be the first since the death of the composer’s 90-year-old grandson and former festival chief, Wolfgang Wagner, earlier this year.
The eagerly anticipated new staging of “Lohengrin” by iconoclastic German director Hans Neuenfels is the first new production to be unveiled in Bayreuth’s fabled “Festspielhaus” theatre in two years.
Last year’s festival saw only revivals of earlier productions to allow for a smoother transition at the helm. Wolfgang, who had ruled on Bayreuth’s “Green Hill” with an iron fist for 57 years, handed over the reins to his daughters, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 65, and Katharina Wagner, 32.
“Lohengrin” will be the first new production under the new joint leadership.
And with German star tenor Jonas Kaufmann making his Bayreuth debut in the title role, and the young up-and-coming Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons in the pit, expectations are running even higher than normal.
Bayreuth is one of the hottest tickets in the world of opera and classical music, with the waiting list for tickets running up to 10 years and more.
The festival always runs from July 25 until August 28 and the glitzy opening night is traditionally attended by Germany’s social and political elite.
There are total 30 performances scheduled altogether.
Critics have long bemoaned the dearth of good Wagner singers in the Festspielhaus during the latter years of Wolfgang Wagner’s reign.
But Eva, who has worked as casting consultant in New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Aix-en-Provence festival in France, is reputed to have a much better hand with singers.
Kaufmann, a 41-year-old charismatic tenor from Bavaria, has already sung the role of Lohengrin in the Bavarian State Opera in his home town of Munich last year to euphoric critical acclaim.
In addition to “Lohengrin,” other works on the programme are “Parsifal” in the third revival of a 2008 staging by Norwegian director Stefan Herheim; and “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” in the fourth revival of Katharina Wagner’s production from 2007.
Wagner’s magnum opus, the sprawling four-opera “Ring” cycle, will be performed a total of three times. It will also be the last time that this particular staging, by German playwright Tankred Dorst and dating back to 2006, is being put on.
The next new production of the “Ring” is not scheduled until 2013, the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth. And while the exciting young Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko will be in the pit, no director has yet been named for that staging.
Katharina said in a recent interview with Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag that Sunday’s opening night gala would likely be “a little bit emotional, because we’ll be missing our father.”
Unlike her publicity-shy elder half-sister, the tall, blonde 32-year-old is very much the public face of the new Bayreuth and has masterminded free public viewings, Internet broadcasts and “Wagner for Kids” in a bid to rid the festival of its elitist and ultra-conservative image.
Next year, she is even planning a project where DJs will mix Wagner.
In 2011, the 100th edition of the Bayreuth Festival, there will be a new production of “Tannhäuser” conducted by German early music specialist Thomas Hengelbrock.
A new production of “The Flying Dutchman” will follow in 2012 to be Conducted by German maestro Christian Thielemann, widely seen as Bayreuth’s unspoken general music director.
And in 2015, Katharina herself will stage a new production of “Tristan and Isolde.”