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A warning from Bayreuth for the entire opera world
What does it mean when the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth is no longer sold out?
Ioan Holender (* 1935) was director of the Vienna State Opera from 1992 to 2010. Under his leadership, the State Opera was considered very conservative. The need for renewal never seemed a priority to him. That does not mean that he is not right to denounce the dilettantism that is causing damage in our theaters worldwide, even if his criticism is very vaguely phrased. (J.H)
Author : Ioan Holender
"Das ist das Ende ?" Wotan's words - slightly transformed - I use to anxiously and worryingly ask if this is indeed a sign of the imminent worldwide end of opera. The Bayreuth Festival in Franconia is considered a destination for pilgrimages of all those people who want to experience Richard Wagner's ten major works.
Wolfgang Wagner, one of the composer's two grandsons, was - until his daughter - the last sole autonomous and well-known director of the Festival on the Green Hill. The 1937-seat auditorium has always been sold out for years. Only a few years ago, one could apply for a maximum of two tickets. And the waiting time to get them lasted up to eight years.
During my 19 years as director of the Vienna State Opera, I was always aware that the Bayreuth Festival is the most important of all opera companies worldwide. I therefore tried a priori not to schedule any works during the Bayreuth rehearsal period in which singers who might be eligible for Bayreuth appeared. I wanted to avoid having to release them for rehearsals in Bayreuth if necessary. If it happened anyway, I could not and would not refuse Wolfgang Wagner's request. His letters requesting the artist's release were always personal. They were always worded in such a way that I could not say no anyway.
The highest award
To an opera director, the shirt is closer than the skirt, and I always acted accordingly. But Wolfgang Wagner's Bayreuth was somehow even closer than the shirt. To this day, I consider the highlight of my actions in the field of opera to be my speech on the stage of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus at the ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Wolfgang Wagner's birth.
The highest honor for a conductor and an opera singer was to be invited to Bayreuth. In the long period of Wolfgang Wagner's festival leadership, the opera world got to know directors such as Götz Friedrich, Patrice Chéreau and Harry Kupfer, all of them already in times when the importance of directors - but not what we understand today by director's theater (Regietheater) - was gradually increasing.
Music and lyrics of the creators were the two pillars of their work. These and only these were decisive. As a result of the scenic aberrations of recent years, and not least of all the questionable conductors and singer casts, the paying public increasingly left Bayreuth disappointed, even angry.
Angrily, those who already knew the works loudly announced their disappointment at the end of the spectacle. No less disconcerted, however, are those who experienced one of Wagner's ten works shown in Bayreuth for the first time. The wonderful acoustics in the Festspielhaus, unique in the world, alone cannot make up for average musical leads, often poor casting of singers, and incomprehensible visual renderings of the stories invented by the respective directors to retain visitors.
The not sold-out Bayreuth Festival is and should be a warning for all those opera theaters worldwide that neglect, change, despise and, believe it or not, often do not know the music and the source material - the libretto - on the basis of which the music was composed. For then Wotan's warning of the end gradually comes true.