Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Bayreuth at the end of June was a Bayreuth before the festival, before the crowds, and before the heat. In a cool delayed spring, things were at best expectant.

If you were looking for locals, the place to start was down the hill by the river in the Shopping Centre, the Rotmain Centre (named after the river), a plain two storey could-be-anywhere affair but warm inside with the ground floor full of food outlets. Behind the Centre runs a pretty little stream, its banks wild and grassy, which we would cross over on an old stone bridge to the hotel just beyond.

It was a simple pleasure then to wander the old town, from The Town Square along the main street, Maximillian Strasse (both now pedestrian zones which sort of work, but sort of don't when there aren't the crowd numbers to fill them up) heading up towards Richard Wagner Str and then Wahnfried.

Little side streets left and right were all but empty, waiting under heavy skies.


Off to the left and down the hill, the glorious treasure of the World Heritage Listed baroque 1748 Margravial Opera House is now covered for restorations, its gorgeous (painted wood) interiors away from the public eyes for years I expect.  How this wonder has survived war and fire is a miracle itself. 

(Here's some of last years without-flash photos, which aren't allowed of course, but the guide was lovely, and kept turning her back).

There's a few Frederick's in this story: 

Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth was the cultured and beloved ruler/monarch who was responsible for the building of the Opera House, which would later attract the attention of one Richard Wagner because of the size of its stage, but be rejected because of the size of it pit and small (500) capacity no doubt. And so evolved the building of the Festspeilhaus. 

                                                                                    Frederick von Brandenburg-Bayreuth

This Frederick's first wife, by arrangement, was to the rather more dominant and thespian Wilhelmine of Prussia who would indulge her talents as writer, director, actor and the like in the great splendour.

Now she was the sister of Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Grosse), amongst a zillion other things responsible for, mature years lived, and now buried at Sanssouci (where rumours of his sexual interests, or not, swirled). He was the young officer who was captured fleeing away from (father) if not to (England) with another young officer and companion, Hans Hermann von Katte, whose beheading for treason he was forced to watch, himself pardoned.

                                                            Frederick the Great as Crown Prince


David said...

Seems like you made the right decision to prefer the Milan Ring, for all its manifold faults, over Bayreuth's this year. I make it a rule never to judge a production, however outlandish it sounds, until I've seen it, but still this one sounded overloaded, inconsistent and chaotic. All you need is singlemindedness of purpose and anything can work.

I rather liked Bayreuth in 1990 - and the environs of Franconian Switzerland, though Rothenburg-an-der-Tauber was a Disneyfied tourist trap too far.

Dresden June 2013? Strauss's Feuersnot is promised in a semi-staged version, so if no starrier alternative is offered, we'll be there.

Susan Scheid said...

How lovely to have Bayreuth almost all to yourselves--and it does sound as if this year's Bayreuth Ring was missable, as David notes. Just by dint of our scheduling requirements, rather than any clever planning, we visited Nice and Monemvasia off-season, not realizing until later how lucky we were not to be there when the streets were thronged. Perhaps the weather wasn't the best, but the relaxed wandering was more than ample compensation.

PS: I'll respond my way "in due course," but must at least say here that I thoroughly enjoyed your Sydney music report!

wanderer said...

David - June 2014 in Dresden sounds enticing. You've sent me googling and now I am fascinated by this work, and its absence from the stage, and that alone, the absence, is pretty compelling. Next year is still uncertain with Bayreuth a possibility but somehow I can't see us there (and that's no doubt much to do with the poor reports) or for that matter anywhere. There is a meeting in Stockholm early June, so that two dots. Still, it's not just which month, it's whether at all for now, for all the usual reasons.

Out of season is very underrated Sue, wouldn't you say. I still dream of Paris and Venice in winter.

David said...

If only Venice were EVER out of season these days. It's all relative, but I remember when we first visited together in early January, went back for a few years but found it eventually heaving. And trying to go back to Torcello in March was a nightmare - so many noisy fellow tourists we hopped off at Burano and took the next vaporetto back.

Stockholm sounds promising. I think we have to head back to Swedish lakes, and maybe catch the midsummer rituals, though I'm concerned about mosquito peak after a very unfortunate (otherwise wonderful) experience with bite-swollen feet on Ingmar Bergman's Prospero isle of Faro.

Our Parsifal was out of this world, for the most part - see Arts Desk. Dalayman is truly a great now; I always thought she was very good but this Kundry was something else. And those boys'/youths' choirs from the Albert Hall gallery...

Susan Scheid said...

wanderer, David: Perhaps you’ve seen this, but, in case not, Alex Ross has written in the New Yorker (8/26) about the Bayreuth Ring, as well as the Salzburg Meistersinger. He ends the article, which may be found here (though I don’t know if it’s available in toto without a subscription), with this: “I arrived home still hungry for Wagner’s greatness. So I went on the Internet to listen to a much lauded “Ring” that had unfolded at the London Proms in the same period as the Bayreuth staging, under the direction of Daniel Barenboim. It, too, had its vocal ups and downs, but in “Gotterdammerung,” with Nina Stemme blazing as Brunhilde, it entered the stratosphere. Finally, we could hear the reason for the two centuries of fuss: supreme, unquenchable, disordering passion.” Methinks David was in the right place at the right time, no?

David said...

And he didn't even get to SEE it, since presumably copyright problems stopped it being televised. Had it been so, an even wider audience could have seen how all the meaning came together in the personenregie by Justin Way - an astoundingly subtle job, by the way - without any scenery except the changing pics on the back strip and, of course, so gloriously, the orchestra. I'm not one of those who says 'who needs a full staging when a concert does the trick', but here I felt we did get the Gesamtkunstwerk distilled.

What with the Tannhauser and the Parsifal also making full use of what the vast hall does best, this is as high a watermark for me as Kupfer's Bayreuth Ring back in 1990 (and if I never get there again, I'll have had my vision).