Today the world of opera looks to Bayreuth

When a new “Ring” is performed in Bayreuth, the opera world rattles.

Today the world of opera looks to Bayreuth

When a new “Ring” is performed in Bayreuth, the opera world rattles. No matter how hard all the other theaters try, the productions in the Festspielhaus are electrifying. And sometimes even blood flows. On stage anyway. But also in the audience. Peter Huth, who has been attending the festival for many years, will report on the "Ring" week in a live ticker - from Saturday, July 30, 2022, the day before the premiere of "Rheingold", until August 6, the day after the “twilight of the gods”, the day of reckoning.

As enthusiastic as the Wagnerians are, they are sparing with the applause. When it comes to the Ring, it's best to only really applaud (or boo) after the closing curtain of "Götterdämmerung" and thus appreciate the entire four-day production (or vent your anger). The applause after the acts and at the end of the individual evenings is more for the performances of the singers than for the overall work of art.

Exception: Anyone who, after the first act of "Parsifal" thinks they have to comment on what is being presented with physical violence, will be hissed mercilessly. There has to be calm, but if you do it anyway, you could just as well be sitting in the audience with a batik T-shirt (depending on the production, that would be okay on stage).

Of course, applause after individual pieces such as "Walkürenritt", "Wonnemond" or "Feuermarsch" is also absolutely unthinkable.

Good morning from Franconia! The weather is still a bit grey, but in the breakfast room there are only smiling faces full of anticipation.

When Katharina Wagner introduced Valentin Schwarz as the director of the next "Ring des Nibelungen" at the 2019 press conference, we all assumed that the production would come to the stage a year later. Then the virus came, in 2020 the festival was canceled completely, only a crowd of defiant people (me too) made the pilgrimage to Bayreuth anyway. In 2021, the program and viewer numbers were significantly reduced. So Valentin Schwarz (with whose work one should be very satisfied on the hill, as a forest bird sang to me) had three years to mentally and conceptually prepare for what finally has its premiere tonight.

The "Rheingold" starts at 6 p.m., the evening before the "Ring des Nibelungen", so strictly speaking not a complete Ring opera. At almost 2.5 hours, the piece is also manageably short - hence the late start. There's no break for that.

Richard Wagner created the festival as a workshop: here the best of their trade and their time should draw lots, stage and perform his works. Each team of director and conductor can try for four to five years, improving and changing from year to year. It is therefore possible that the premiere cycle of an opera differs significantly from the last performance.

Only Wagner's ten major operas will be performed - from the "Flying Dutchman" to "Parsifal". "The Fairies" and "Rienzi" are not played in Bayreuth.

In 1876, at the first festival, Wagner was still staging himself. He paid his actors and employees little or nothing. In his opinion, taking part in the festival was honor and distinction enough. After all, board and lodging was free.

In principle, this has hardly changed to this day: None of the artists who spend the summer months when there are no performances in Franconia gets rich. The invitation to the Green Hill is considered an accolade.

Tomorrow: who makes music and who doesn't; why the conductor everyone has been waiting for is missing; why we don't see any more skins on the Green Hill, my personal nightmare staging (so what it would be like if Facebook staged the ring), first gossip from rehearsals; More details about the "Rheingold" and of course the first day of the new ring!

The rules of conversation in the "Lohmühle" (and in all Wagner hotels) are very simple: if you are spoken to at the next table so loudly that you can hear it at your own table, this is considered an invitation to join in the conversation. Because many guests are so advanced in age that they speak very loudly anyway, this is almost always the case. The topics are still not very sensitive: wasps, roast pork, where do they come from? Soon, however, it's getting down to business, across three tables.

Yes, so the Kosky production of "Meistersinger"! The first act was still good, but then, with these big Wagner heads. We don't know. - Yes, is his topic, he has to do it that way. - And the "Tannhäuser"? - Oh well. It takes some getting used to - I thought it was excellent. - Oh, then I'm sure you have too...

Then it all happens very quickly: who saw what when and how did you find it. The productions of the last few years are gone through, it goes beyond Bayreuth. Suddenly you realize that you found Bernd Eichinger's direction of "Parsifal" in the Lindenoper in Berlin to be excellent with a gentleman you had never seen before (until now you thought you were the only one and everyone else had it found terrible). That's palpation. And never show off.

Bayreuth, a protected space, a cocoon.

Let's make it as long as necessary and short as possible. That's the story of the Ring for those in a hurry.

Alberich snatches the “Rheingold” from the Rhine daughters by renouncing love and forges the Ring of the Nibelung from the jewelry. Wotan, the supreme god, steals the jewels from him, but loses them to the giant Fafner, who from then on guards the treasure as a dragon. Not without Alberich cursing the ring and all those who would wear it beforehand.

In order to create a hero who can regain the ring, Wotan founds his own family of heroes, the Wälsungen. However, through adultery. This upsets his wife Fricka and shakes Wotan's position of power. In addition, there is a break with his favorite daughter, the "Valkyrie" Brünnhilde. The Wälsungen prototypes Siegmund and Sieglinde do not survive long, but their son "Siegfried", the first free human being, who has been gene pool-optimized by incest, finally slays the dragon Fafner, gains treasure, a ring and a Tarnhelm.

But he has little interest in that, all the more in his half-aunt Brünnhilde. She slumbers in a circle of fire because she defied her father Wotan (see above). On the way to free her, Siegfried meets Wotan, smashes his spear, thereby triggering the Twilight of the Gods and walking through the fire. He falls in love with Brünnhilde, she with him. He gets her horse, she gets his ring.

On a hero's journey, Siegfried ends up at the Giebichungen court a short time later, where Alberich's son Hagen is responsible for the intrigues. With a magic potion he lets Siegfried a) forget Brünnhilde and b) win her (with a camouflage helmet) as a bride for Hagen's half-brother Gunter and c) make the hero himself fall in love with the stupid Gutrune. The surprised Valkyrie no longer understands the world and reports treason. Hagen offers to avenge her and finally, in a plot with Gunter and Brünnhilde, kills the hero with a spear in the back.

Everything has become too much for Wotan, in a deep depression he prepares the burning of Valhalla Castle and the collective suicide of the gods.

Siegfried's body is laid on the pyre. Hagen murders Gunter over the ring. At the last second, Brünnhilde sees through the game and rides into the fire herself on her horse Grane - love triumphs over the preservation of the known world.

It is soon in flames, the Rhine rises over its banks, Brünnhilde throws the ring to the Rhinemaidens to break the curse. Hagen jumps behind - and is pulled down. The ring's curse may be broken, but the rule of the gods is ended forever.

It was only a brief Bayreuth dream, that of beating HSV. The SpVgg lost 1:3 on a not so summery Saturday afternoon, now the HSV fans are flooding the city center. But there is no singing, it was too short for that. They meet the remnants of Christopher Street Day, which was a) very short and b) above all a costume party for happy young people. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. In any case: now it's about art. Tomorrow the festival will really start with the Ring premiere. I'll try to summarize the content in a concise yet complete way. See you later.

All eyes are on Valentin Schwarz, the director of the new ring. Wagner's "Holländer" was the first opera that the only 33-year-old Austrian (and thus, along with Patrice Chereau, the youngest director ever appointed Bayreuther Ring boss) saw. At that time he was only nine years old, a life-changing experience: He studied music theater direction in Vienna, staged "Turandot", "Hansel and Gretel", "Cosi fan tutte", "Carmen" and "The Bandits" - but never Wagner. The astonishment was correspondingly great when Katharina Wagner introduced him in 2019 as the maker of the ring that was planned for 2020. A novice on the hill? It's a good thing that Wagner's great-granddaughter had almost always had a good to brilliant hand when choosing her guest directors.

But what is Black planning? Not much was revealed – that would also be unusual. At the Bayreuther Ring, Schwarz told dpa in February, what fascinates him is that the work will be performed in its entirety in just one week. This would "give us the opportunity to show a family epic in a four-part series format and to follow these characters in their circumstances and omissions through the course of time." The word about the "Netflix ring" was quick in the world. Schwarz continues: "I want to tell a story about today's people, today's characters, today's problems - and not about gods, dwarves and dragons. He sees the "Rheingold" as a kind of "pilot film that raises a lot of questions, teases a lot and makes you excited about what's to come - even if you might not be able to classify everything right away."

Frank Castorf chose a similar approach – as far as modernity is concerned – in 2013 with his tour de force through the 20th century. And there, too, many things could not be classified immediately. To be honest, not until today (crocodile?).

Black - my guess - will be more accessible, straighter, easier to decipher. More cinematic. Maybe in the style of a mafia drama like "Sopronas"? As a story of rival dynasties (like "Game of Thrones", only without the drama)? Dark comic-of-age like "Stranger Things"? Political thrillers like "House of Cards"? Tomorrow night we'll know - the main thing is that it won't be woker kitsch stuff like "Bridgerton".

But last Sunday the all-clear. In an interview with "Spiegel", Schwarz made it clear that he had been misunderstood. For him, “Netflix” was not an aesthetic cipher, but a description of the addiction that can arise from the addictive experience of stories. And in Bayreuth people definitely binge.

Schwarz didn't want to tell his colleagues exactly what he was up to (I wouldn't have either). Just this much: he plans to tell the Ring in such a way that the characters are deeply explored, hidden motives are revealed. In the libretti of the Ring operas, however, these are mainly found in indirect narratives rather than scenic ones. These, on the other hand, are often staged as pure vocal mono- or dialogues. Does Schwarz perhaps show something like mock flashbacks? That would be interesting - and again very close to the "Netflix" aesthetic.

An impressive dedication gallery of famous Bayreuth actors hangs in my hotel. Who has probably slept in my little bed? Judging by the size of the room, no one is a superstar (is that how it's gendered?), at most a daughter of the Rhine and/or a Valkyrie. If I don't write anymore tomorrow, it was a Wotan's daughter who kidnapped me to Valhalla. You notice: The Bayreuth happiness hormones make you silly. I vow to get better.

Speaking of the new world order: SpVgg Bayreuth leads 1-0 at half-time against HSV.

Arrived, unpacked, take a deep breath. Before we embark on the adventure tomorrow, what is the 16-hour narrative all about? The storyline comes later. First of all, this is about the material from which the ring is forged. So what does the author actually want to tell us?

Yes, it's a family story. Wotan's family of gods on the one hand, Alberich's Nibelungen on the other, a story of fathers, sons and grandchildren. And a busy wife. Of course, the difference between love and lust is also discussed. And it looks at whether money makes happiness, whether sibling love is okay, or maybe even the ultimate way to create a perfect gene pool. It is also about military obedience, trouble with craftsmen and their pay, conversation with birds, the frustration of adoptive fathers, fratricidal strife, adultery and infidelity, the metalworking revolution and crocodiles. Please forget the latter quickly, that was just one of Frank Castorf's ideas at the last Ring in Bayreuth. To this day nobody has understood.

The core of the action, however, is the rule of law, or in this case the legal divinity. Because it is the story of the failing Allfather Wotan, who, with the best of intentions (he wanted to rule by law, not by force), imposed such a complex set of rules on himself that he increasingly realized that he was meeting the demands he made on the world and its beings has imposed, cannot fulfill - and never really (especially when it comes to the marriage oath) wanted to.

He recognizes that the time has come for a new, freer moral organization of the world. One that is determined by the people. In Wagner they stand for wild purity, in contrast to divine order. One must not forget: Wagner was a revolutionary all his life. Church and state, i.e. the rule of institutions, he disliked – although he was very happy to take money from the king and local authorities to finance his luxurious life and, above all, his festival theater in Bayreuth. Wagner was a man of many faces. And also some grimaces. More on that later.

The decline of Wotan's legal system is symbolized by his spear - once carved by the young god from a branch of the world ash (which was irreparably damaged as a result) and provided with magical runes that make contracts and rules binding. Also for God the Father himself, no matter how hard he tried to evade his own laws. While in Die Walküre Wotan uses his spear to smash another weapon he created to manipulate world events, the sword Notung, in Die Götterdämmerung it is Siegfried, the first free human being to move beyond the divine rules, who with smashes Wotan's spear with the sword restored by man-made super technology - this is the Götterdämmerung.

At the end of the ring, the curse of the ring, triggered by the theft of the Rhine gold at the beginning of the tetralogy, is lifted and the gold is now back in the Rhine. But nothing is like before. The mystical age is finally over. Gods, dwarfs, giants, all these unearthly mythical creatures and their world perish. A new age begins - that of free people who have to make their own rules and laws.

This is the revolution in the ring, the core from which the opus is forged. Reports later tonight will report how Richard Wagner wraps it all up into one spectacular plot - very roughly. More precise synopses of the individual operas will then follow on the respective performance days: Morning for the "Rheingold", Monday for the "Valkyrie", Wednesday for the "Siegfried" and on Friday for the "Götterdämmerung".

Finally arrived in Bayreuth with only a minimal delay. The delay was due to the HSV fans, who had made the long journey south because they could expect an away win here in the first round of the DFB Cup against SpVgg Bayreuth (3rd division). The taxi driver reports that "thousands of northern lights" have been making the city center "unsafe" since morning. He himself prefers to watch a "groomed Götterdämmerung". Could he actually go to the stadium, at HSV it often comes down to the same thing. Then there is Christopher Street Day, also today. And right in the middle we Wagnerians. A city with three colorful stages. Alright.

In the meantime, I'm setting myself up in the "Lohmühle" in my 15 square meter chamber for the next week. And I'm looking forward to the first Franconian beer.

People are already singing enthusiastically on the train from Bamberg to Bayreuth. However, no Wagner, but football bawling - the second division HSV plays in the DFB Cup against Bayreuth. This is how the worlds meet in the regional train: Here the jersey wearers, there the suit people.

There is already a discussion in the comments on this live ticker – as usual, it is also about the meaningfulness of the festival. And the costs, of course those for “the taxpayer”.

Here are some numbers. The festival is an exception in the German theater business. They are financed 60 percent from their own resources, i.e. from tickets, broadcasting rights and merchandise. For comparison: In other German hospitals, the rate is an average of 20 percent.

Where is the rest of the money coming from? One third is paid by the federal government, another by the Free State of Bavaria, the last third is shared by the city of Bayreuth, the district of Upper Franconia and the "Society of Friends of Bayreuth" - i.e. the hardcore fans. In absolute figures, this is usually less than ten million euros. However, the federal government will subsidize the necessary renovations to the Festspielhaus with a further around 170 million euros in the coming years.

And who is it all for? Around 58,000 people see the festival each year (only half last year due to Corona) on site on the Green Hill. You pay between five and 433 euros, depending on the seat and cycle. "Tristan" will be played twice this season, the Ring three times, "Tannhäuser" and "Holländer" four times and "Lohengrin" five times. In fact, however, the operas are seen and heard by thousands of people all over the world. There are radio broadcasts and a live stream. The data will be available later in this ticker.

Shortly before the transfer in Bamberg, a brief review. The festival has been running since the beginning of the week. The opening was already on Monday with Roland Schwab's new production of "Tristan and Isolde". A celebrated conducting by Markus Poschner, a dreamy-romantic stage design by Piero Vinciguerra and a somewhat static directing by Roland Schwab delighted the premiere guests. Here is the review by Manuel Brug. He also explains why in Bayreuth, in the first real post-corona year, there is a second new production in addition to a new ring, against all customary practice - it was a safeguard against a possible corona failure of the ring. Such a festival is still shaky even in the waning times of the pandemic. And some things were actually brought down by the virus. More on that later.

So: After the acclaimed "Tristan" and a little bourgeois outrage on social media about the performances ("So they have time for that", "Alles Schnorrer", "What do they look like?") on the (as usual with Merkel, Gottschalk, Söder and new in the Ricarda Lang program) red carpet on the day of the premiere was followed by a break of almost a week with a – successful – side program. But without opera. Not without drama, of course.

MeToo has reached Bayreuth. Several contributing women reported sexual assaults on the hill. Some violently, others verbally. The "North Bavarian Courier" reported first. Festival director Katharina Wagner confirmed incidents, also affecting her personally, which she was able to fend off. You found “very, very clear” answers.

Anyone who knows Wagner knows that it is better not to mess with her. Basically, by the way.

Other women couldn't do it or didn't dare for fear of losing their jobs. The public prosecutor's office has started investigations and the festival has also announced the consequences. That's right, but of course it can't take away the shadow over this year's season. That too will have to be discussed.

For the time being, however, it's all about the art - namely in the staging of the new "Ring des Nibelungen" by Valentin Schwarz. Tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. it's time.

I am happy! It actually worked out with the tickets for the "Lohengrin" next Thursday, i.e. between "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung". Franziska Emmerich from the Bayreuth Festival is writing to me right now. In 2018, I was overwhelmed by the staging by Yuval Sharon and the design by Neo Rauch. I'm curious to see how the production has developed.

Anyone who quotes Loriot can hardly do anything wrong. Therefore he also has the first word here (and will also have the last). When asked what perfect happiness was for him, he answered: "Bayreuth (arrival)" - And when asked what the greatest misfortune was: "Bayreuth (departure)". I feel the same way - for many years. I became a Wagnerian through a shimmering summer love with a musical soul twin sister, whose name was not Sieglinde but Annemarie. Definitely in the text I wrote for WELT am Sonntag a few years ago.

Now I'm sitting in the ICE 703 towards Munich, I'm changing trains in Bamberg. If the train wants - and there is still no delay - I'll be in Bayreuth shortly before two, dragging my suitcase to the train station in the direction of the good old "Lohmühle", my favorite quarter. One day before "Rheingold" - because I need this lead time to carefully immerse myself in this own, magical, almost mystical world, in which everything revolves around Richard Wagner, his music, his texts and their implementation on stage. And everything!

I left my family at home this year. Four operas (maybe five, if it still works with a "Lohengrin" ticket) and a concert in six days - that's a full-time job, a deep dive into the greatest music drama in history and its creation. You can only achieve the highest level of enjoyment through full concentration and full attention.

I invite you to accompany me on this journey, whether you are already a Wagnerian, want to become one, or are a Wagner skeptic or even a hater. No previous knowledge is required: what is involved is explained, for those in a hurry and for those who want to delve deeper.

In the breaks after each act, I'll tell you what Valentin Schwarz is doing with the "Ring". If you're in Bayreuth: I'm the man in the tuxedo, laptop on my lap and a glass in my hand. Do not hesitate to contact me! Or write comments. I am happy! (Also about the note that the term "Chancellor" for Angela Merkel is to be used more for protocol purposes).

Because the discussion belongs to Bayreuth. A lot of what I write in the breaks and after the operas will be viewed very differently by other reviewers. Totally different. Diametrically opposite. And I'm sure I'll wake up with a headache about what I've written after thinking about it at night and dreaming about it.

That's the fun part.

My valued colleague Manuel Brug reports for the printed WELT, and I highly recommend his texts. He's the professional (especially when it comes to musical evaluation), I'm the ardent amateur.

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