Rapturous reception at Wagner fest’s opening night

Germany's legendary Bayreuth opera festival, dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner, got off to a rapturous start on Monday with a brand new production of the composer's last opera, "Parsifal", enthusiastically received by the first-night audience.

Rapturous reception at Wagner fest's opening night
Bayreuther festival 2016, Parsifal. Photo: DPA

While this year's month-long proceedings have been overshadowed by a series of deadly attacks in the country, the performers were tumultuously applauded at the end of the six-hour performance.

However, opera critics were less enamoured with the new reading of Wagner's most enigmatic work by German director Uwe Eric Laufenberg.

Out of respect for those killed or wounded in attacks over the last week in Ansbach, Munich and Würzburg – all in the state of Bavaria – organisers cancelled the lavish banquet that traditionally follows the first performance of the festival.

Also cancelled was the usual red carpet procession.

Inside the theatre, a message projected on the curtain said: “The Bayreuth festival dedicates today's performance to all victims of the violent acts in recent days and to their loved ones.”

The month-long festival opened the day after a man set off a bomb near another music festival in the southern town of Ansbach – just an hour's train ride from Bayreuth – killing himself and wounding 15 people.

Authorities said he was a 27-year-old Syrian refugee.

On Friday, an 18-year-old German-Iranian went on a shooting rampage in a Munich shopping centre killing nine people before shooting himself.

On July 18th, five people were injured in an axe attack on train in Würzburg that was claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

Bags, cushions banned

Tighter security on Bayreuth's mythic Green Hill — on which the world-famous Festspielhaus festival theatre stands — has been in place since the start of rehearsals in June.

Town authorities called for stepped-up measures following suggestions that this year's production of “Parsifal” might be perceived as critical of Islam, a charge denied by director Laufenberg.

Unlike past editions of the festival, all bags and cushions have been banned from the auditorium and cloakrooms while patrons have to carry photo ID with them at all times.

Meanwhile, the approach road up the Green Hill to the Festspielhaus has been blocked to cars.

Star Klaus Florian Vogt was rapturously received for his interpretation of the title role with his clear, distinctive tenor.

German bass-baritone Georg Zeppenfeld almost stole the show as Gurnemanz, while Russian soprano Elena Pankratova, making her Bayreuth debut, put in an astonishingly accomplished performance as Kundry.

Conductor Hartmut Haenchen, brought in at just three weeks' notice when rising star maestro Andris Nelsons withdrew unexpectedly, was also loudly cheered for his transparent, light-footed reading of the score.

While the audience stamped and cheered at the end of the evening, professional opera critics gave the staging itself the thumbs down.

Laufenberg transposed Wagner's medieval tale of the knights of the Holy Grail to the 21st century, setting the action in a bombed-out church in the Middle East, where Christian monks looked after refugees of all creeds.

In a roundtable discussion after the performance, Eleonore Buening from the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dismissed the imagery as “cheap and cliched.”

“It's prissy and provincial theatre-making,” she said.

The depiction of the Flowermaidens in the second act, who try to seduce the hero Parsifal, as a Middle Eastern harem reinforced 19th century colonial stereotypes, said Bernhard Neuhoff of Bavarian Radio.

The festival runs from July 25 until August 28 with 30 performances of seven different operas.



Dancing like there’s no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig

For techno enthusiast Philipp Koegler, it almost felt like a normal Saturday night again as he joined 200 fellow revellers at "Distillery", the first German nightclub to reopen since the start of the pandemic.

Dancing like there's no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig
A file photo of a disco ball in a night club. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Tonight, there are no rules,” the almost 30-year-old told AFP, whipping off his mask on his way to the dance floor.

Despite more than a year of closures forced by the coronavirus, it didn’t take long for the thumping beats, low lights and buzzing crowds to reawaken the much-missed club atmosphere.

“It feels like I’ve come back after being away on vacation for a week,” Koegler beamed.

But of course there are some rules to restarting the party, even in Germany where coronavirus infections have declined steadily in recent weeks as the pace of vaccinations has picked up.

The Distillery club in the eastern city of Leipzig, which bills itself as the oldest techno venue in Germany’s former Communist east, is taking part in a pilot project supported by scientists from the Max Planck institute and the local university hospital.

Just 200 club-goers are allowed in instead of the usual 600 and each person must take two different kinds of coronavirus tests earlier in the day, with entry granted only if they test negative both times.

Once inside, the masks can come off and revellers don’t have to socially distance.

Each participant also agrees to being re-tested a week later, to uncover potential infections despite the precautions taken.


Organisers hope the project can serve as a blueprint for further club re-openings to help the hard-hit sector back on its feet after a devastating year.

Although several venues in Germany experimented with open-air parties, club-goer Konny said it “just isn’t the same”.

“In the club, you’re in a different world,” she said.

Growing influence

Distillery manager Steffen Kache expressed pride at being the first club in the country to reopen indoors.

“Everyone is jealous,” he told AFP.

Kache said that if there has been an upside to the pandemic closures, it was that politicians had woken up to the social and economic importance of Germany’s vibrant club culture.

Lawmakers last month agreed to reclassify nightclubs as cultural institutions rather than entertainment venues, putting them on a par with
theatres and museums to provide more protection and tax benefits.

Germany’s nightlife capital Berlin alone – home to iconic clubs Berghain, KitKat and Tresor – usually attracts tens of thousands of foreign visitors each year who generate over a billion euros in revenues.   

Many observers fear that when the pandemic dust has settled, not all of Germany’s clubs will have survived the lengthy shutdowns.

The collaboration with local authorities that made Distillery’s pilot project possible was “unthinkable before the crisis”, Kache said, and evidence of a “reconciliation” between underground club culture and the political establishment.

He said he hoped the next step would be “the nationwide reopening of cultural spots and clubs, without Covid restrictions”.