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Music

Richard Wagner's year in the spotlight

Wagner will be all over music programs in 2013, as this year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Travelers in Germany can choose from no shortage of traditional to provocative takes on the composer's work.

Every summer, Bayreuth means sold-out shows, red carpet treatment and appearances by the chancellor herself. But right now, the opera mecca is dead. At a recent guided tour, just two local women and a tourist couple showed up. One of the locals has lived for 30 years in Bayreuth, but this was her first time in the town's famous opera house. The other is guide Claudia Dollinger, who works at Wagner's musical temple. She explains with a touch of pride that she was finally able to snag tickets to the opera fest in 2012.

"To get them, I had to go the official route: waiting ten years," she quipped, adding, "We always say that those of us from Bayreuth get our tickets last."

Bayreuth's ticket dilemma

Wagner's opera house in Bayreuth
Copyright: Medana Weident/ DW

Bayreuth is home to Richard Wagner's opera mecca

Wagner fans from around the world apply each year for the event's circa 60,000 tickets, writing in by snail mail or email to make their requests. Applying year after year, prospective guests slowly make their way up the waiting list. The ticket prices range from 8 to 280 euros ($10.60 to $369).

In an effort to reduce the waiting time to just six to eight years, the festival directors give out fewer and fewer fixed packages to organizations and sponsors.

"Last year, around 70 percent of the tickets were available for purchase," said Dollinger.

However, Bayreuth isn't the only place to witness the festival's stars in 2013. Dresden's Semper Opera will present "Lohengrin" under the direction of the renowned Wagner conductor Christian Thielemann.

Richard Wagner's biography - controversies and all - will also take center stage during the anniversary year. One example comes by way of a theater in Rudolstadt, Germany, which is planning a melodrama centering on Wagner's most famous love affair.

Portrait of Mathilde Wesendonck
Source: Wikipedia

Mathilde Wesendonck, writer and Wagner muse

Wagner's women

In 1834, the composer was living at a royal court, working as a musical director for a nearly bankrupt theater troop. He had joined the group solely because he fell in love with the actress Minna Planer, whom he married in 1836. A number of affairs ultimately broke up the marriage. The final blow came when Wagner went head over heels for the married writer Mathilde Wesendonck.

His relationship with Wesendonck forms the basis for the melodrama "Traum der ewigen Liebe" (Dream of Eternal Love) in Rudolstadt. The performance draws on a song cycle known as the Wesendonck Lieder, in which Wagner set verses by his muse to song as well as excerpts from journals and letters.

Wagner in Wartburg

A Wagner classic will be performed at the site that inspired it - in Eisenach, home to the Wartburg Castle. It's almost like wandering through Wagner's thoughts when the castle's festival hall is transformed into a performance site for "Tannhäuser and the Singers' Contest at Wartburg Castle," the full title of the opera commonly known as "Tannhäuser."

Wagner travelled to Wartburg on a number of occasions. Legend has it that a contest for minstrels took place there in the middle ages. In "Tannhäuser," the composer included a depiction of the singers' contest, inspired by his own visual impressions of the castle.

Wartburg's festival hall
(c) picture-alliance/dpa

Wartburg's festival hall will host "Tannhäuser" productions in 2013 and 2014

Wartburg Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will host eight performances of "Tannhäuser" in 2013. Although sold out, prospective guests can write in or call to put themselves on a waiting list, said chief press spokesman Andreas Volkert, adding, "'Tannhäuser' can be seen at this authentic venue in 2014 as well. The dates will be confirmed in early 2013."

'Parsifal' at Leipzig's Wave-Gothic fest

Two guests at the Wave-Gothic meet-up in Leipzig
Photo: Jan Woitas dpa/lsn +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Great opera for the gothic scene in Leipzig

Leipzig probably wins the title for the most off-beat Wagner anniversary production. The composer's city of birth will open its annual festival of the gothic scene (official name: Wave-Gotik Treffen) with a performance of "Parsifal" at the city's Monument to the Battle of Nations.

Sven Friedrich of the Richard Wagner Museum in Bayreuth is critical of what he sees as a focus on breadth rather than depth in the Wagner anniversary year.

"When there's an anniversary, you get one event after another. On the one hand, it's nice, because it impresses the masses. But the decisive question is: What remains from all that after 2013?"

Bayreuth reloaded

Stefan Kaminski
Photo: Rainer Jensen dpa/lbn +++(c) dpa - Report+++

Multi-talent Stefan Kaminski, voice actor, author and musician

Bayreuth may not have to worry about that, particularly since festival organizers want to draw younger audiences to the Green Hill. One attempt to do so: a live performance called "Ring von unten" (The Ring from Below). Stefan Kaminski, a German voice and stage actor with a highly mutable voice and a complex array of acoustic instruments, will offer listeners an unusual take on the "Twilight of the Gods."

Kaminski's fans on Facebook are already looking forward to the performance: "Finally - Wagner dusted off and freed from the moths! Woohoo!" wrote one.

In Bayreuth, at least, Wagner will never get dull.

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