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The Bayreuth Festival

The Festspielhaus in Bayreuth - picture : bayreuth.de
The Festspielhaus in Bayreuth - © bayreuth.de

Despite the financial difficulties surrounding its beginnings, the Bayreuth Festival, dedicated solely to operas by Richard Wagner, is the realization of the Leipzig-born composer’s dream. Wagner’s patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, donated the sum required to build the Festspielhaus. As a matter of fact, the Margraves’ baroque opera house could not host the complex stagings and large orchestras of operas like Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin or the Ring tetralogy. The Festspielhaus was originally conceived to be a temporary building, which explains its rather simple architectural look.

The principal innovation of the concert hall itself was the orchestra pit, dug below the scene and partly covered by it: with this “invisible orchestra” Wagner wanted the audience to concentrate on the stage happenings and not be distracted by the conductor’s and the musicians’ movements.

Festspielhaus-innen-wikipediaUnlike the traditional, horse-shoe shaped opera house design, the auditorium's seats are arranged in a so-called “continental seating”, a single steeply-shaped wedge after antique amphitheater models. Movie theaters have adopted this style of seating since then, which gives every seat an equal and plain view of the stage. (picture: wikipedia.org)

For the first time also, the lights went off during performances, so that the audience was even more focused on the stage – after the opening performance of the Ring in 1876, this progressively became habit in all concert and opera halls around the world.

Getting tickets for performances on the “Green Hill”, a worldwide pilgrimage site for all Wagner-lovers, has become a rather difficult endeavour, with waiting lists of up to 10 years. In 2008 though, the composer’s great-grand-daughters Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier took over as Directors of the Festival and have started reforming the event. For the first time in the Festival's history they allowed The Master Singers Of Nuremberg be downloaded and retransmitted live on a giant screen in the city of Bayreuth.

More: wagneropera.net