10 years of Katie at Bayreuth: it just gets worse and worse

10 years of Katie at Bayreuth: it just gets worse and worse


norman lebrecht

September 13, 2018

Not necessarily our opinion, but a scathing end-of-decade report on a widely-read Bavarian website.

Actually, a really useful article as pure history, but the Katie-out agenda is ultimately clear.

Read here.



  • Andrew Powell says:

    This is not a “Bayreuth” problem, or even a problem of the last ten years. Naturally the North Bavaria writer is frustrated with garbage stagings. We all are. But there are several elements to this widespread mess — social degeneration, Hollywood amorality, perverted directors, a camera orientation, attractive budgets, lazy executives, ignorant culture ministers — and none of them started at Bayreuth or can be solved there. KW is doing a reasonable job. Impresarios in Hamburg, Munich and Berlin are certainly not.

  • James says:

    “Im Publikum sitzen zunehmend auch Besucher, die erstmals in der Oper sind.”
    The author appears to think this is a bad thing. But didn’t Wagner intend for the festival to be for all, not just rich a$$holes?

    • Joshua says:

      Bayreuth Tickets cost a fortune and are incredibly hard to get. The people who see their first opera in Bayreuth are likely to be super-rich and trying to seem cultured or cool

    • John Borstlap says:

      What is obviously meant, is that there is a sort of ‘new audience’ coming who have no idea what opera is, and thus will be entirely uncritical and be spoonfed everything shown on stage and sounding from the abyss. Given the Regietheaterstyle mostly presented at Bayreuth, uncritical audiences are, of course, very welcome.

      • James says:

        How do you spoon feed someone the orchestral score? Are you suggesting the musicians/conductors are playing differently because there are more first-timers in the audience?

        • John Borstlap says:

          Yes, they will play slower and clearer, singers will sing louder, and percussion will be wilder. Difficult bits will be repeated like the cursing trio in Gotterdammerung. And singers will often come to the front of the stage, close to the pit, and point with their index finger to the translation above the proscenium to make sure the audience will follow what the heck is happening.

  • Escamillo says:

    It is bizarre that a distant descendant of the founder is still accorded some sort of genetic right to run the Festival. Where else does that happen? It was certainly not Wagner’s intention. He offered to hand over control to the Bavarian state and, when that was knocked back by the King’s ministers, he favoured the (Jewish) impresarrio Angelo Neumann to run the show before Cosima said ‘over my dead body’ or words to that effect. Keep a ‘Wagner’ as patron if you like, but give the directorship to professionals.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Wieland Wagner happened to be an excellent professional….. but he appears to have been the exception. And then: what about the professionals? Would they absolutely be better? It depends entirely upon the individual and running an opera festival is not like running a bank.

      • jaypee says:

        You would have been the first to boo Wieland Wagner in the 1950s had you been there.

        • John Borstlap says:

          No, Wieland got the bright idea to remove all concrete props so that the operas could be experienced as a dreamlike, mythical theatre. With the subtle lighting and much darkness, the music had priority and could come all into its own. After all, Wagner is ‘symphonic opera’ in mythical garb. The problem arose when this ideal representation style became established, gradually became ‘the past’, and the urge to ‘do something new’ moved staging style into other directions.

    • Sanity says:

      You’re maintaining that Eva Wagner didn’t know how to cast an opera?…


  • Nadine Weissmann says:

    It may be important to consider the source: Monika Beer used to work for the press office of the Bayreuth Festival and has written numerous disgruntled articles about it since leaving; this one contains its share of half-truths and unsubstantiated gossip.

    • Martin says:

      “this one contains its share of half-truths and unsubstantiated gossip” – and that’s why it is a perfect fit for Norman Lebrechts website

  • M McAlpine says:

    It would help us non-German speakers if the article were in English

    • Gus says:


      A translation can always be obtained online. If you are in Google Chrome it will ask you at top of page do you want a translation. Will do any language. Easy.

  • Caravaggio says:

    The elephant in the room no one wants to discuss is the deplorable state of singing, of Wagner singing in this case. Combined with the atrocious productions they are mounting at Bayreuth, and not just at Bayreuth, the roof is caving in under the weight of sheer mediocrity and incompetence. That’s the bottom line.

    • James says:

      I thought Tristan had great singing this year – and Lohengrin too. In particular, Georg Zeppenfeld stood out for me. But what do I know.

      • Caravaggio says:

        Yes, Zeppenfeld is ever the exception. Beczala also impressed as Lohengrin. But neither can save the sinking ship.

        • urania says:

          True – sinking ship! Arent most opera houses sinking ships? Repeating, repeating? Managements are so proud to use masterpieces of the past again, year after year! Yes, use them for own fame, classical music is rarely ‘alive’ anymore. We need to bring alive the music again!

      • Gareth Jones says:

        I thought Brunnhilde was very good – or am I wrong? Bayreuth first timer this year…

    • Bogda says:

      Of course no one wants to talk about it, because it’s a non-existent issue. Have you actually heard/seen any production there in years. If anything, casting in Bayreuth is among the best anywhere.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Wagner’s own singing, according to historical reports – when he played through his scores and sang all the parts – must have been quite bad.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Every generation complains about the standard of singing.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    One line in the article that I’m not sure I translated entirely was a comment that Bayreuth had changed from a family business to a state-owned theater.

    A question I’ve asked before here that no one had an answer to…

    Who actually OWNS Bayreuth? Germany? Bavaria? Still “the Wagners”?

    Who is that has the power of ownership to have the final yes or no say on everything?

  • Josep says:

    What a nonsense. The singing is getting BETTER: they got Beczala, the three basses (Zeppenfeld, Groissböck and Pape) are fantastic, so are John Lundgren and Albert Dohmen, Volle and Kränzle are the best pair today for Meistersinger, and next year we’ll have the debut of Lise Davidsen and Anna Netrebko (and true, Petra Lang is a dreadful Isolde). Then look at the conductors who have debuted in Katharina’s time: Gatti, Petrenko, Janowski, Nelsons, Haenchen, Jordan, Bychkov and soon Gergiev.

    And what about the productions? Two amazing ones (Herheim’s Parsifal and Kosky’s Meistersinger), the rats’ Lohengrin which people loved at the end, the intriguing and ecumenic new Parsifal, another Lohengrin which will surely improve, and yes, a mediocre Tristan and an infuriating Ring. But it’s much worse in other European houses.

    • Player says:

      A very fair summary!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      The truth is that opera productions have always been “hit and miss”, and that even the best singers from the past and good days and bad days (and there have always been many singers who are “not the best”). Comparing the best of the past with all of the current is likely to give you a very misleading idea of contemporary standards.

  • JoBe says:

    If that article hadn’t been written by a fellow woman, we would have heard more about the naughty choice of pictures. Katharina in 2008: young, fresh, pretty. Katharina in 2018: swollen, fat, and looking like a distant, decayed old relative of herself. Telling!

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Telling of what? What is wrong with a current photo of someone, man or woman? This is ten years later for Ms. Wagner, and most people don’t retain the past image of themselves after a certain age. This doesn’t make them any less attractive or less interesting. Please, keep your air-brushed and photo-shopped images of celebrities.

      • JoBe says:

        They may have chosen a less nasty photo of her (or a more neutral picture, if you prefer), if they had had more sympathy for her. Clear enough? Not everyone looks like 50 at 40.

  • Bogda says:

    This is another BS article, from someone who either has personal issues with the Festival management, or generally can’t stand modern productions per se.

    Musically productions have improved over the last decade, and many are again becoming benchmarks for performance of Wagner operas (just look at this year with Thielemann’s Lohengrin, Bychkov’s Parsifal or Jordan’s Meistersigner)

    As for productions, without a doubt Castorf’s Ring will remain one of the most relevant productions of the Ring. (regardless of personal tastes)

    Neuenfels’ Lohengrin and Kosky’s Meistersigner ended up being huge artistic successes

    Both Tristan and Hollander were received quite positively
    Baumgartner’s Tannhauser was clearly extremely risky, risk did not pay out, so what? isn’t that what happens when one takes a risk? Isn’t risk taking actually a prerogative of festivals?

    Only real flop was Parsifal

    As for Sharon’s Lohengrin, jury is still out. it did not flop, nor was disliked by critics. There seems much more in it then was understood by most. One should wait for second run to see how it develop.

    regarding tickets – one should check out this year’s sales and waiting lines before lamenting on dwindling interest. Tickets for Lohengrin this year were among most difficult to get for any show anywhere. and certainly wont be any easier next year with such cast.

  • YS says:

    ayreuth Festival: The level drops and drops

    Wagner great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner has been in charge of Bayreuth for ten years. What has Wagner’s great-granddaughter achieved in this decade? How did the Festival develop under her aegis? A balance. With the 32nd performance.

    With the 32nd performance of the Bayreuth Festival in 2018, the tenth season under the direction of Katharina Wagner came to an end on the Green Hill.

    What has the 40-year-old Wagner great-granddaughter achieved since the Board of Trustees of the Richard Wagner Foundation, together with her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, named her Festival Director on 1 September 2008? 2009: At the start of the new era in Bayreuth, there is no new production in the programme, but some innovations. The children’s opera celebrates its debut with the “Flying Dutchman” in the rehearsal stage IV, there are now its own introductions, VIP lounges and a new corporate identity that turns the famous “Blue Girls” into grey mice whose uniforms will change even more often.

    Everyone is talking about a “new openness”, but that’s only true if you don’t look closely. There are again programmes on the individual works, but most of them are so poor in concept and content that you can save yourself the money. Apropos: The most expensive card costs 225 Euros, the cheapest listening place seven Euros.

    2010: The conversion of the family business into a state theatre means that, for the first time within the “Ring” cycles, other works have to be performed because of the collective agreements. The new rat “Lohengrin” under Andris Nelsons and Hans Neuenfels with Jonas Kaufmann, who is no longer engaged the following year because he would be missing at a dress rehearsal, is a complete artistic success.

    The one-sided preferential treatment of the new TAff association causes trouble with the patrons and Wagner associations. The Bavarian Court of Audit criticises the allocation of tickets, the Federal Court of Audit will follow. Katharina Wagner announces a project in which the Nazi past of the family and the festival is to be dealt with and which will come to nothing because of the lack of financing.

    2011: In April Wim Wenders, the designated “Ring” director for the great Wagner anniversary year 2013, cancels the contract. At the press reception Katharina Wagner announces that Volksbühnenchef Frank Castorf will replace him.

    Sebastian Baumgarten’s new production of “Tannhäuser” with an avant-garde biogas plant and spectators on stage is a scenic debacle from which conductor Thomas Hengelbrock, who as an expert in historical performance practice is not even allowed to play two natural horns, will soon say goodbye.

    Conductor and soloist reshuffles are now commonplace, which significantly reduces the quality of the performances. In Katharina Wagner’s “Meistersinger” production of 2007, places are already available at the revival premiere.

    2012: Because of a pierced swastika tattoo, title hero Evgeny Nikitin has to cancel the sails four days before the “Dutchman” premiere, while Katharina Wagner announces Jonathan Meese as “Parsifal” director for 2016, who also likes to perform with Hitler’s greeting. There is no greeting for the exhibition “Silent Voices” from the festival directors, who later also alienate the Israeli ambassador.

    The union performances have been cancelled without replacement, and Siemens, as the previous main sponsor, has said goodbye, which means the end of the popular public viewing. The new “Dutchman” under Jan Phillip Gloger, who replaced Stephan Kimmig, is meaningless, which can also be experienced live in the cinema. The Wagner sisters receive the Eon Culture Prize, whose jury is chaired by Toni Schmid, Chairman of the Festival’s Board of Directors.

    2013: Just in time for the anniversary year, the Festspielhaus is scaffolded and Haus Wahnfried closed, which highlights the Richard Wagner Foundation and the Festspiel Board of Directors. Behind all this is the omnipotent ministerial Toni Schmid, who will skilfully push through the amendments to the statutes that are opportune to him.

    The Festspiele, which now also have an executive director in the form of Heinz Dieter Sense, will realise Wagner’s early works at proud prices in the Oberfrankenhalle. At the anniversary “Ring” of the “Stückezertrümmerers” Castorf, for which tickets can be ordered for the first time on the Internet… to the ticket shop (which hopelessly overwhelms the Festspiel-Technikdienstleister), only conductor Kirill Petrenko convinces critics and audience completely.

    After all: Aleksandar Denic is named “Stage Designer of the Year” by the “Opernwelt”.

    2014: In February it is announced that Eva Wagner-Pasquier will leave the festival management in 2015 – guaranteed not voluntarily. Before the start of the festival the contract for Katharina Wagner will be extended until 2020.

    According to plans, the general renovation of the Festspielhaus is to cost at least 30 million euros. Due to a breakdown at the opening, the audience has to be sent out of the hall for forty minutes, after which the long-standing technical director is dismissed and “Tannhäuser” is removed from the programme prematurely.

    The FAZ describes the festival management as a “Bayreuth incompetence team”, the current productions cause foreign demand to collapse, the number of sponsors and patrons decreases. In November, Jonathan Meese, who is very committed to Bohei, is uninvited again for the “Parsifal” in 2016, because his concept is “not affordable”.

    2015: Katharina Wagner’s production of “Tristan” in deconstruction style, still commissioned by father Wolfgang, meets with little enthusiasm.

    The previous consultant Christian Thielemann is appointed Music Director of the Festival and is supposed to be the cause of a “ban on hills” for Eva Wagner-Pasquier, which in turn almost leads Kirill Petrenko to leave the orchestra and leads to Anja Kampe not singing Isolde. Map seekers are now the exception at the Green Hill, Bayreuth is “on it’s way downhill”, the portal musicalamerica.com also notes. The audience increasingly includes visitors who are in the opera for the first time.

    You no longer have to wait years for tickets, unsuspecting black marketeers even sit on their expensive tickets. Kirill Petrenko conducts the “Ring” for the last time, but doesn’t get a curtain with the orchestra.

    2016: Katharina Wagner is no longer a mediaendarling and makes herself scarce. She is no longer the sole managing director of Bayreuther Festspiele GmbH: Holger von Berg stands by her side. Uwe Eric Laufenberg is allowed to implement his planned directing concept for the Cologne Opera “Parsifal” in Bayreuth on the basis of a self-application, and is making headlines complacently because of alleged criticism of Islam and criticism.

    The intellectual substance of his production is minimal, so the security measures around the partly fenced-in Festspielhaus are all the greater. After the sudden cancellation by conductor Andris Nelsons, Hartmut Haenchen and Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role are cheered. For the first time, the Festspiele have not sold all their tickets… to the ticket shop, for the first time it is speculated that Nikolaus Bachler could become Festival Director after 2020.

    2017: Festival tickets – whether ordered regularly or sold immediately online – have gradually become more expensive. There are even staggered prices for new productions in the premiere year. The most expensive tickets for the opening day cost now 400 euro and in the later conceptions maximally 368 euro, the most favorable hearing places lies now with 13 and/or 12 euro. On the day before the opening, a memorial concert for Wieland Wagner, which would have been 100 years old in January, will take place in the Festspielhaus.

    The new production of “Meistersinger” by Barrie Kosky, in which Wagner’s anti-Semitism is thematized, succeeds brilliantly under the musical direction of Philippe Jordan and with a great group of soloists. In the new series of events “Discourse Bayreuth” curated by Marie Luise Maintz, the Festspiele will deal in detail with their brown past.

    The symposium and the concerts in Wahnfried are attended by top-class musicians.

    2018 : At the beginning of rehearsals, the tenor Roberto Alagna, who is not fixed in the text, cancels, while Pjotr Beczala steps in. The new production of “Lohengrin” in the blue setting of the artist couple Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy is a flop, because the director Yuval Sharon, who has taken over for Alvis Hermanis, strikes little scenic spark in the given. For the first time, Christian Thielemann directs the “Lohengrin” in Bayreuth and is thus the second man in the ditch to have conducted all the works of the festival repertoire.

    The record craving of the former star tenor Plácido Domingo, who is the first Bayreuth singer to be allowed to conduct, proves to be inglorious – in a “Walküre” performed three times solo, which is an unjustifiable taboo break in the Festspielhaus built especially for the “Ring”. Domingo is booed, the co-responsible festival management unfortunately not because of lack of possibility.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The difficulty of Bayreuth is, that it has been set-up as a model theatre by Wagner, a venue which would offer the best possible format for his works which were not easily adaptable to the regular theatres of his time. The idea was, to show his works in model performances. But meanwhile, other theaters are perfectly capable to produce Wagner operas, so the exceptional profile of Bayreuth has diminished and only the physical theatre itself offers something different from other places. So, in an effort to remain ahead of the competition, productions try to transgress boundaries, try to be groundbreaking, to renew the works, to create scandals (which was – in the last century – a sure sign of artistic quality) and the tragedy is that one cannot do that indefinitely. In the end, this strategy eats itself up. A truly groundbreaking idea in the 21st century would be to produce the works ‘historically’ with period instruments and a realistic presentation – hopefully while avoiding the silly bear skins, horses and 19C acting conventions.

      • Bogda says:

        You are a bit contradicting yourself in the last sentence. You want historic, but without … it doesn’t work like that. Btw. There have been plenty attempts to reconstruct old productions in the last years all around Europe with mixed success.
        Biggest problem though is finding any serious director who would be willing to work under assumption of producing a historic production just by definition you are limiting his/her creativity and ultimately damaging the final outcome. Try to find today any artist today that writes, paints, sculpts, composes etc as was done 100 years ago or more. That same is with theater and staging. And people should get over it. Theater is art form it’s not museum

        • John Borstlap says:

          Yes, that bit is contradictory. Repetition / imitation of the past, in any art form, is not creative – or, only creative in a preservation sense. I would describe what I mean als follows: every art form has a historical element and a timeless element, the latter being the ‘spirit’ of the work. It is this latter element which is the heart of any cultural / artistic tradition, which is interpreted and varied all the time. But it is not limitless and cannot be changed at will. Going back to ‘the original source’ means: the spirit of the work. Concerning W’s symphonic operas, that would mean: staging them from the nature, the spirit of the work outwards, and not imposing an alien vision upon them. But finding-out what ‘the spirit’ is, is already interpretation, but if motivated by an honest attempt to realise what the composer probably (!) had in mind, is already hard enough in this case since the works hold many features which are impractical or not theatrical or implausible etc. etc. Reconstructing what W probably must have intended, will always be an interpretation but will be more accurate and interesting than what we mostly see today.

          As for the orchestra: the change in instruments in the 1st half of the 20th century means that the balance has become different (louder brass and percussion, darker sound of the strings), and – thinking of the Bayreuth pit – going back to the original balance of sound may get us closer to how it may have sounded under W’s personal instructions. This original balancing and colouring can also be achieved by modern instruments but requires specific efforts by the conductor, instead of his own personal tastes.

          It is interesting to remember that W himself was much disappointed by the visuals of his operas and thought of inventing the ‘invisible theatre’ – the ‘theatre of the imagination’. Which is, in fact: a concert performance. Unless modern stagings can, with the help of the most advanced technology, create something which could, maybe, have been W’s own fanciful imaginings, staging his works will always be cumbersome and a minefield of problems.

    • Player says:

      Thanks for this long survey!

      What does “ban on hills” mean re Thielemann and Petrenko??

  • Edgar says:

    As has been the case so often in Bayreuth, it’s not about what happens onstage and in the pit, but rather about and around the house. “Nicht Theater im Theater, sondern Theater um das Theater.” As in: the dysfunctional realationship-world of the RING played out in reality. Next RING production: just put all involved in the latest imbroglios onstage and let them play themselves…. 🙂

  • Bill Ecker says:

    Here is the deal, the Bayreuth Festspiele since its’ founding has been led by the Wagners and supported by the government from Mad King Ludwig to the present. They only present operas by Wagner and despite all the press and family rankling still sell out every season. Some productions are wonderful and some from hell. If there are capable Wagner’s to run the festival, there is no reason to hire someone else; after all it has been their family business since the founding, Richard to Cosima, Siegfried to Winnifred, Wieland and Wolfgang, Wolfgang and now Katherine. The Wagner’s have always been controversial and that will not change. The press has always been quick to jump on them. All of this said, it should run like a business and rather than pushing the envelope and bringing in controversial directors who drive many away, they should mix it up and bring in story tellers who can create great productions that the public like.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Ludwig II was not mad, and he did not pay Wagner and the festival out of the government budget – which was not entirely under his control – but out of his own pocket, like the castles he had built. And the festival was to a great extent paid for by the Wagner Societies which had been set-up everywhere for the purpose. When they could not get enough funding, it was Ludwig who funded the deficit, as he likewise paid for the deficit after the 1st festival in 1876 which ended in a disastrous bill for which no money was left. However incredible it now looks, the festival took quite some years to get established – in the beginning the scepticism was widespread.