Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bayreuth 2010: More pics, more info [Taff!]

I am still to blog/review  Dionysos and Parsifal, but since I have a zillion things to do while here...

In this entry I pack up  some photos and info/rumors I collected in Bayreuth 10 days ago.

This is how the theater and its surroundings look on a sunny day. What surprises me always --when talking to German wagnerophiles-- is the way they perceive this Festival: They still see it as a "popular" event, while on the site it looks just the opposite to popular, i.e. ultra-bourgeois. It's charming and very pleasant, but popular definitely not!

And this is how sad the Festspielhaus looked the first day of my stay in Bayreuth, when it was cold: imagine me taking off from sunny Paris and arriving 3 hours later to cold & rainy Bayreuth (My first  text-msg was "I forgot to take my ski-jacket!" - It was this cold! )...

The Festival in Bayreuth is meant to let the crowd enjoy the intermissions by walking in the parks and gardens surrounding the theater, to sip the flutes of champagne or the excellent local beer, browse in the souvenir and CD/DVD shops... in short, enjoy the summer evening, process the Act of Wagner's opera you've just seen, and for many the intermissions are also good opportunities to show off their fancy dresses/suits...

When it rains, all that parade is washed out and the scene radically changes: the fancy dressed folks become to look grotesque as they are forced to spend 1 hour long intermissions outside on crappy weather, looking for some warmer/covered area, with all their hairs messed up by wind and rain... Even the famous fanfare men were standing under the porch:

OK, I'll focus on the better day, when I saw the best opera show ever made [of course it is!;)].

Downtown Bayreuth is not really interesting. Coffee is uniformly HORRIBLE --in the best hotels and the worst coffee-shops, the same bad hot beverage-- which is a local thing; in Munich or Berlin bad coffee is a rarity; do not buy the plastic-looking sandwiches either because their taste never matches their good looks. They do however have good beer, sausages (if you're not veg like Yours Truly!) and they have excellent shops of organic food, with all kinds of soups and salads, in Bayreuth downtown.

Next to the Theater is the Steigenberg restaurant where you can have a nice meal (not at all copious!)   To give you an idea about the dishes, wines and their prices (click on the pics to enlarge):

Wagner stuff is everywhere; the souvenirs are often kitschy but not always [cf. Intermezzo's gallery of windows, shops and outlets in Bayreuth containing "ostentatious" reference(s) to Wagner]. I thought this T was fine -- a gift for 14€  is all I needed:

 and I even bought myself a Lohengrin T (10 €) in the shop next to the Festspielhaus

One thing reminded me of Bieito's Parsifal: Wagner is --by many freaks in Bayreuth-- considered almost as a divinity. In Bieito's Parsifal, when the religious symbols were evoked to expose the fact that the institutional religion does not provide the spiritual support to the people any more, Kundry and Gurnemanz were putting all kinds of symbols on Parsifal, one of them being a small bust of Wagner's, which made me laugh a lot: I thought it was a clever mockery but ultimately a joke. Errr... now after having met some interesting --via my ticket person-- I'm not so sure about the joke part. All those folks are passionate and very-very kind, until you dare to put a touch of doubt in their Wagner-related ideas. They almost laughed up my statement that Christian Thielemann is excellent but that I know several other conductors who gave much better performances of Parsifal than Mr.T, and that Barenboim's Ring sounds much better to me. They think that Katharina Wagner was crazy when she invited "inexperienced" Andris Nelsons to conduct an opera by Wagner (sic!) They also worship Jonas Kaufmann [yes, one of the best singers today but, with all my respect, his brilliant Lohengrin is not as good as Klaus Florian Vogt's!]. Two guys (in their 40's!!!) wore the same beard as Wagner... Well, I had a few good laughs with them but it felt all a bit weird...
I leafed through the official Festival paper...

...and there you read that the female audience is put into a trance when Jonas Kaufmann appears on stage [Bieito saw it perfectly right in his Parsifal!] :)
It's funny to see a photoshop miracle in the Festival paper:

Katharina Wagner in "Festival Tribune 2010", and at the opening of the Festival 2010

A detail that Wagnero-maniacs cannot miss in Bayreuth are the street-signs. I know it's all made up to impress the freaky tourists like me, but I love it anyway :)
Here I made a collage of some I saw on the way to the Festspielhaus:

On the second day I ended up visiting the VIP lounge [during the first intermission]. It's a very pleasantly furnished space, but for some undefined reason I only feel well there as long as my curiosity is on alert. After that I prefer the ordinary crowd... After having seen the VIP lounge, I hope all the Bayreuth worshipers will stop talking about the "popular" aspect of the Bayreuth Festival. 
Even though the VIP lounge is a strictly no-photo area, I snatched one quick pic (with no person in it!):

What always amazes me in Bayreuth is the international crowd. Many more Russians than last year (!),  Japanese, Indians, many French, Brits, Dutch, Spanish, Italians, young Americans --who were evidently surprised by the Festival's fashion and then ran fast to buy at least a good looking jacket ;)-- and I spent the second day with an Australian couple (!) and a girl from Slovenia.

However the crowd is mainly German, and mostly 40-50 (agewise, I'd believe a distribution is highly peaked around 50).

I didn't see any Chinese at the Festival, but there were many in Salzburg...

Fanfare time for Act 3 of Parsifal:

On the way back to hotel I spotted this Pharmacy:

Now, what were the info and rumors I've heard in Bayreuth?
  • In spite of everything the Festival is struggling financially (so they say!) and the new alliance between Katharina Wagner and Christian Thielemann ended up with a creation of an organization called Taff, with a motto "You can never have enough friends". It gets complicated if you want to go into details, but it essentially means a mirror image to already existing "The Friends of Bayreuth" -- an organism that you wish to join to drastically accelerate the procedure of getting the Festival tickets [260€ is the joining fee and 205€ is your yearly membership fee]. A yearly membership for Taff will be another couple of hundreds of euros and once you get to the Festival you will be able to join one of their organized visits to backstage and to the "artist only" premises. Now the problem is the following: people who used to wait for 10 years (and more) to get the tickets, will now either have to wait for 20 years, or the access to the Festival Tickets will be reserved for Bayreuth or/and Taff friends only -- which is against the spirit of the Festival... Now you can imagine the rest of the ongoing debate, or Google the German press [keyword "thielemann taff"] to learn more about it.
  • Everyone seems to be enchanted by the new production of Lohengrin, the images of which shocked European and American conservatives. As I suspected  Neuenfels' show is motivated by the Art Spiegelman's idea of people being manipulated like laboratory rats (but, of course, in different circumstances). It worked throughout the history -- especially in the 20th century -- and it works very well today too... So the rumor is that Hans Neuenfels will be one of four directors who will produce the bicentenary Ring in Bayreuth in 2013.  Wim Wenders might be directing one opera too. Sadly the name of Stefan Herheim is not mentioned any more... In any case the super-talented Kirill Petrenko [who became big by his superb conducting at the Komische Oper Berlin -- where else?! :) ]  is supposed to conduct the new Ring, while Thielemann will conduct Der Fliegende Holländer in 2012.
  • In spite of Richard Wagner's wish not to stage any of his early operas at Bayreuth, there may well be a production of Rienzi and of Die Feen [staged last year in Paris, with phenomenal Christianne Libor who sang the atrociously difficult role of Ada, and Marc Minkowski conducting]. Katharina Wagner's Meistersinger will finish its infamous 4 years run, but she wants to come back as a director and so she will produce new Tristan in 2015.

[apologies for all the typos; didn't proofread carefully]

Ed: Here is a photo of the well known scalper who goes around on his bicycle, looking for a prey to sell his 1000 € ticket that he'd bought from someone else [who wanted to return his/her ticket but came before the ticket office opens] for 5 times less!

You've been warned...


    1. What a post! Just like being there ;) (eeer...I suppose)

      Thanks for the rumors

    2. Does the Apoteke offer Balsam aus Arabien?

      I am on the point of becoming a "Freund" as this seems to be the only chance of ever again getting tickets before I go to the geat Walhall in the sky.

      Your reports are almost as good as being there.

    3. BTW. There was a staging of Die Feeen about 40 years ago under the aegis of a JugendFestspiel in Bayreuth, of which I have LP highlights. Linda Esther Gray was in the cast.

      I am hoping that Minkowski may offer Das Liebesverbot in Paris as Die Feen was a musical revelation, though too many pink feathers.

    4. Thanks Operacake, I loved your instructive report and all the photos. Since despite my great love of Wagner operas I have absolutely no intention whatsoever to EVER to fly to Europe and attempt to buy one of those ridiculously overpriced tickets so I can watch atrocious productions like this Lohengrin, now I know what it all looks and sounds like; and am delighted to know how little I am missing (not to mention the hour outside in the rain). I would go anywhere to hear Jonas live (and have) but Bayreuth will not be one them.
      Best wishes, keep up the good work for those of us who stay behind.....

    5. Anonymous, this is of course your right and your opinion. It's risky to go to Bayreuth: the tickets are extremely scarce and demand is enormous. This is why I always recommend to go to Salzburg after Bayreuth. You go for a couple of days in Bayreuth, see the site and all the wonderful things in and about Wahnfried house, and if you can score the ticket all the better! Tickets for Salzburg are easy to get IF you send your request early enough (January, February)

      What makes you think this production of Lohengrin is atrocious? All reasonable people who saw the show say it was very good.