Inside Bayreuth: The Ice Age begins

Inside Bayreuth: The Ice Age begins


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2014

The sacking of Jonathan Meese as director of Parsifal is more significant than it first appeared. We’ve been hearing – under oaths of extreme anonymity – that much has changed at Bayreuth since Eva Wagner-Pasquier was shoved off into Valhalla twilight earlier this year by her younger half-sister, Katherine.

Katie is taking no prisoners.

A production team which presented its ideas to both sisters in the most amicable of atmosphere found, when facing Katie alone, a total, inexplicable frost. ‘The model showing took place in the iciest atmosphere,’ one team member tells Slipped Disc. ‘I couldn’t believe that it was possible to invite an artist and to treat him in this way. Not even a polite word of interest in his proposition or any appreciation of the work on the model.’ Eva Wagner, apparently, sat in a back row, saying nothing.

At no point were the team given a budget, despite discussing the project for months with the Geschäftsführenderdirektor, Heinz-Dieter Sense.

One designer speaks of total incompetence, ‘an incapacity to deal with artists.’

An independent director (not Meese) tells us: ‘The Wagner’s told Meese his concept was too expensive. Forced him to rethink it. He did. Cutting it down substantially. They refused to show him figures. Told him it was still too expensive. Expecting and hoping he would withdraw so they would not have to pay him. This is the third time the Wagners have fooled around with directors.

‘Castorf was third choice after Van Trier and Wenders. Baumgarten was second director for Tannhäuser, after Sébastien Nubling was announced and forced to withdraw. Now Parsifal…’

Welcome to Katie’s world. Bring extra blankets.


katharina wagner thielemann



  • Musiker says:

    Oh dear, and so factual errors and ignorance are perpetuated.

    Castorf wasn’t “the third choice after van Trier and Wim Wenders.”

    Van Trier was replaced by Tankred Dorst, who staged the previous Ring before the current one.

    Castorf was brought in after Wim Wenders pulled out of the bicentenary Ring.

    Two different stagings.

    Not much of an inside source if they can’t even get the basic facts right.

  • Anonymus says:

    Not much to read into this. Katharina W. wanted to get rid of Meese with as small of a financial hit as possible. Simple as that.

    • Simon S. says:

      So why did she hire him? Not that it hadn’t been known what kind of artist he is.

      • Anonymus says:

        Did she (alone) hire him?

        • Simon S. says:

          She was in charge as managing director, wasn’t she?

          • Simon S. says:

            If she has come to the conclusion to fire Meese for artistic reasons, she should say so. And she should also respond to the question whether this could not have been foreseen.

            As a German taxpayer, I would like to know.

          • Simon S. says:

            I wouldn’t bet he won’t. And if ihis lawyer isn’t a complete desaster, this doesn’t look good for the German taxpayer. And that’s not Meese’s fault.

  • Simon S. says:

    I have always been critical with Wolfgang Wagner as festival director. Sorry for this. Compared to what we have now, he was an immensely great festival director.

    But his insistance on handing over the job to Katharina was fatal. Bayreuth has almost completely lost any relevance since she took over.

  • harold braun says:

    No uncommon behaviour in some German oopera houses….

  • John Borstlap says:

    The difficulty of Bayreuth is, of course, that it was set-up as a venue for model Wagner productions, in a time when all other theatres were run on very different norms. It was meant to set standards to be followed elsewhere. But since that has been quite successful, the special function of the model venue has petered-out. Now Bayreuth mostly follows the ‘regietheater’ fashion that has become established elsewhere, which does not help either. In the context of contemporary Wagner productions in Europe, a really model function would be HIP (historically informed performance), or fully traditional presentation as in the Met. Then, the critics would again have something to complain about, but audiences would be very happy. Now, everybody is complaining about Bayreuth.

    • Anonymus says:

      The key strengths of Bayreuth have been:
      -unparalleled acoustics for Wagners operas.
      -an excellent orchestra (and choir)
      -the best performers; conductors and singers of their time

      only after that comes the mis-en-scene department. Unfortunately the Zeitgeist with its fixation on the visuals brings an emphasis on the visuals of the performance, that are against the art form AND against Wagner’s own intentions.

      Artistic leadership of Bayreuth must work on these three above mentioned issues first. The quality of the orchestra is in decline if the last season is taken as an indicator. The singers are also too often not the best available anymore.
      Believe it or not, most of the audience in Bayreuth comes for the music and quality of the performers. Bayreuth used to be a guarantee for excellence in these departments. Stage direction is also important, but not as important as it is made to be these days, where 80% of the press is about the stage directors.

      • Frank says:

        You appear to believe you are speaking for everyone at Bayreuth. You’re not. The audience has changed in the last several decades.

      • Diana Medford says:

        only after that comes the mis-en-scene department

        You say. Wagner would probably disagree with you, since he insisted on a lengthy staging rehearsal period for the first production of the ring, a tradition of careful dramatic preparation that has been consistently applied (whatever the style of production) at Bayreuth from the first Festival to the most recent.

        I am constantly amazed how people way “Wagner wanted this” or “Wagner wanted that” without a shred of evidence, but when confronted with the concrete proof of Wagner’s insistence on the importance of dramatic values in opera, suddenly everybody turns deaf.

        • Chris says:

          You misread. I simply emphasized the pillars of Bayruth’s prestige to the musical world in the last decades. I’m well versed regarding Wagner’s intentions. But even he would probably find it disproportionate, when about 90% of the press reports are about either mise-en-scene scandals or political issues behind the scenes.

          Again, Bayreuth’s prestige is not based on the mise-en-scene readings primarily. Bayreuth stood and stands for the best and most dedicated performers in the pit and on the stage, in an ideal acoustical environment. That’s what made it stand out. Intelligent mise-en-scene readings were happening also elsewhere, but it was the guaranteed top notch performance that made Bayreuth attractive.

          • Diana Medford says:

            Yes, I can absolutely envision Wagner sitting there in his frilly silk dressing-gown, throwing the latest number of Die Zeit across the room and moaning, “Ach, Gott, Cosima! Why are journalists not more attention to the music paying? Why always only about the stage direction and scandals must their writing be?”

  • sdReader says:

    Heinz-Dieter Sense?

    Please tell us that is a typo.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Is it time to stick a fork in Bayreuth? Other cities and venues are doing it better, with less capricious leadership (for instance, Glyndebourne is now besting Bayreuth when it comes to small-house summer festival Wagner).