Nike Wagner: Why do all summer festivals have to be the same?

Nike Wagner: Why do all summer festivals have to be the same?


norman lebrecht

August 28, 2014

The Bayreuth exile, now running the Beethoven Festival in Bonn, has been sounding off about the problem with festivals. Much of what she says can be applied equally to the Met, or to any other large cultural institution in the early 21st century.

Here’s the quote:

nike wagner


All festivals today are striving desperately for a USP. This might be a composer, a musical genre, a landscape, a building, a location. At the same time, no festival organizer can escape the levelling effect of the cultural industry on the one hand and public austerity policies on the other. Without Celebrity Artists the houses remain empty, but most stars offer routine (repertoire), as part of a tour. We don’t engage those artists, or else we threaten them with a quota and red pencils.

Still, there are ways. What I’m saying is, you have to try to stand out by strict dramaturgy of programmes, you try to smuggle something rare and unknown into the familiar repertoire, and you stay alert to social and contemporary trends. Without imagination and courage, nothing works. But without endurance and fund-raising energy, there’s nothing, either. 


Alle Festivals heute streben verzweifelt nach dem “Alleinstellungsmerkmal”. Das kann ein Komponist sein, eine Musikrichtung, eine Landschaft, ein Bauwerk, eine Location. Zugleich entkommt kein Veranstalter den Gleichmachereien, wie sie durch die Kulturindustrie einerseits und die Folgen öffentlicher Sparpolitik andererseits gegeben sind. Ohne “Promi-Künstler” bleiben die Häuser leer, Promi-Künstler aber liefern häufig Routine, sind halt auf Tournee. Engagieren wir sie nicht, drohen “Quote” und Rotstift. Dennoch gibt es Wege, und ich bleibe dabei: Man versuche, durch stringente Programm-Dramaturgie aufzufallen, man versuche, Raritäten und Unbekanntes in das gewohnte Repertoire einzuschmuggeln, man bleibe sich unserer Gesellschaft und Gegenwart bewusst. Ohne Phantasie und Mut geht da nichts. Aber ohne Ausdauer und Schwung beim Einwerben von Geldern auch nicht …



  • Neil McGowan says:

    It seems to me that Bayreuth certainly has offered “Celebrity Artists” in past and recent seasons.

    What the public really wants is excellence (as if that needed saying – but apparently it does?).

    You certainly do not have to ‘sell out’ on your artistic commitments to bring the public through the doors. Bayreuth had the most bankable name in the business. And it is a business – audiences pay top euro for Bayreuth tickets, and have to join Waiting Lists. Productions which are half-thought-through, or which began rehearsal with no single clue, are an insult to the audience. Claiming your bloodline to “Der Meister” is not a substitute for perception, acumen, determination, and impeccable quality.

    Just look how Barrie Kosky has turned-around the Komische in Berlin? Phenomenal audience take-up stats, whilst remaining Germany’s most inventive and challenging opera-house. You may sometimes disagree with the production concepts, but the quality of the work that’s been done shines through in every case. That’s what ability can do.

    Who could call this “conventional”?
    Yet I saw leather-hearted Berlin bankers in tears at the end.

    Too much laurel-resting, Ms Wagner.

    • Simon S. says:

      Err, you are aware that Nike Wagner has never been in charge of any responsible position at the Bayreuth Festival, aren’t you?

    • Jenny B says:

      That Rusalka looks interesting!

      Another brilliant production was this Orfeo from this year’s Munich Festival:

      Again, not conventional. I saw the live streaming in July and thought it was so fabulous that I shall go and see it live next year.

    • anonymus says:

      “What the public really wants is…”

      Please define “the public”. The public I know wants panem et circenses. When it comes to opera maybe “first class” circuses.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Nike’s no exile, I see her in Bayreuth every single year. As for Barrie Kosky, Neil, he’s slated to direct Meistersinger in 2017. Should be interesting.

    • Neil McGowan says:

      Definitely interesting! Since MEISTERSINGER has the monologue about “the future culture of the German people”, it sets out a manifest for how things ought to be. If only I didn’t live thousands of kilometres and several hundred euros away, I’d be booking now :))

      • RW2013 says:

        Meistersinger in these bejeweled hands?
        nein danke…

        • Ethel Whitehead says:

          Perhaps Kosky would better meet with your approval if he wore ladies’ silk drawers.

        • Neil McGowan says:

          So your opposition to Kosky is based on…

          … his choice of rings?

          I knew the Wagner Society were extremists, but this takes it to a new level 🙁

          • RW2013 says:

            If you can’t work it out by watching the clip, quite aside from the rings, then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            RW2013 says:
            August 29, 2014 at 11:53 pm

            If you can’t work it out by watching the clip, quite aside from the rings, then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point.

            I watched the clip, and I couldn’t work out what you are to talking about – so I definitely don’t get the point. Can you please explain what the point is for those among us who are mentally a little slower? Thanks!

  • Milka says:

    Most of the “classical” music audience can
    be thought of as the most brain
    dead arts group one could imagine
    opera lovers being the worst of the
    brain dead group .

  • Arne Muus says:

    Mistranslation at the end of the first paragraph (in the English version): the German actually says, ‘If we don’t engage them [Celebrity Artists], we are threatened with quotas and spending cuts’.

  • Milka says:

    Could this be the Neil McGowan from the backwoods of Russia the
    travel agent who “hears ” the written
    word ?