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Souvenirs of a festival in transition,


The imminent arrival of the 2006 season of the Bayreuth Festival, 25 July-28 August 2006, offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on the significance of this historic operatic institution in an exciting period of transition. And with the promise of a memorable new Ring cycle, directed by Tankred Dorst, to be conducted by the impressive Christian Thielemann, the season also features revivals of Der Fliegender Hollaender, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal, and thus affords a chance to offer some reflections on those very productions as they were experienced just last year.

Bayreuth is, for any admirer of Wagner's music, the closest one may approach to a religious medieval pilgrimage. The chance to hear Wagner's stage works performed in the unique acoustics of the 'Festspielhaus', devised by the composer himself, and to enjoy imaginative interpretations of Wagner operas and music dramas by leading international producers, conductors and singers, promises to be, and fulfils its promise of, an unforgettable experience. And if there may be a scarcity of epiphanal miracles such as at Mecca or Lourdes, the exhilaration of Wagner performed in these circumstances is undoubtedly miraculous, as is the experience of witnessing an international festival at an exciting crossroads in its development, the 83 year old Festival Director Wolfgang Wagner clearly poised soon to hand over the reins -- to whom we still don't know -- of a musical institution that, still striving to rise Phoenix-like above the haunting ashes of a tainted interlude in its otherwise colourful 130-year history, is engaged in contemplating and confronting the global artistic needs of Wagner in the 21st century.

Wolfgang Wagner (right front) with Dr Malcolm Miller at Bayreuth
Wolfgang Wagner (right front) with Dr Malcolm Miller at Bayreuth

The opportunity to attend Bayreuth is not without its challenges: at a purely practical level, the substantial demand during the two-month season, and the high prices, put seats at a premium, though thanks to state subsidies, these are still lower than equivalent festivals in Munich and Salzburg. There is also the price of intellectual effort, the chance to delve into the deeper meanings of the music and the productions, to gain an understanding of the evolving history and significance of Bayreuth, which makes the visit all the more worthwhile, enhancing one's enjoyment of the performances.

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Copyright © 25 July 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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