Booing and bad shows at Bayreuth: Berlin demands changes

Booing and bad shows at Bayreuth: Berlin demands changes


norman lebrecht

September 01, 2022

The Bayreuth audience and the festival management have been suddenly brought into the political spotlight.

After the worst summer of audience hostility and singer dismay, the federal German culture minister Claudia Roth has made a statement that cracks the complacency of the Wagner family and points to a different direction.

Frau Roth called for major reforms and made it clear she was targeting Katharina Wagner. The festival, she said, is ‘not a reflection of our diverse, colourful society.’ It needed to a attract younger, broader public. ‘The directors of the festival will have to do more to attract their audience in the coming years.’

And she was critical of misguided new productions, without specifically mentioning the Ring. Bayreuth needed, she said, to ‘design the general conditions of the festival in such a way that artistic excellence can be achieved.’

Under Angela Merkel, Katharina Wagner had protection in Berlin. No more.


  • Tamino says:

    Roth said much more importantly:

    “Es gibt auf dem Grünen Hügel wirklich sehr viel Reformbedarf”, …”Zukunftsfähigkeit” der Festspiele, also darum, “die Rahmenbedingungen für künstlerisch attraktive Inszenierungen zu schaffen.”

    She says Bayreuth needs reforms… to be ready for the future…by creating a framework that allows artistic excellency.

    She talks about needed changes to achieve highest artistic excellency, and that is spot on.

    Her comment about diversity:
    „Richtig ist aber auch, dass das Publikum auf dem Grünen Hügel eben kein Abbild unserer vielfältigen, bunten Gesellschaft darstellt“

    does not imply an impetus for action. It reads more like a factual statement. About Bayreuth’s audience, not Bayreuth in general.
    “it is ALSO correct, that the audience in Bayreuth does not reflect our diverse, colourful society.”

    But her comments about reforms to maintain or achieve artistic excellency are the actual line she is trying to push.

    • JJ says:

      What is ‘artistic excellency’ to her? (Or any politician for that matter.) Whatever puts butts in seats? Whatever caters to the fashionable thème du jour? In the past people were told, over and over again by establishment critics, that regietheater is synonym to artistic excellency, and who dissents with their views is parochial, bigoted, conventional, conservative, etc etc etc. Now it’s fashionable to beat the ‘diversity’ drum, and blame all evils on ‘elitism’, so here we are, ‘artistic excellency’ is apparently whatever appeals to ‘diverse and colorful’. Well, I have news for Mrs Roth: Only the lowest common denominator appeals to ‘diverse,’ this is the nature of the beast. If she’d think a little, regietheater as strategy isn’t so bad after all, the lowest common denominator is softporn (one of them anyway.) But the crowd living off regietheater don’t need to worry, she won’t do anything to jeopardize their income. It’s just that the booing was reported in the press and she felt the need to make a generic statement. Of course she is all for ‘artistic excellency’, what else? Did you expect her to say she supports trash? Words we have heard many, action is something different.

    • JJ says:

      The sentence ‘regietheater as strategy isn’t so bad after all, the lowest common denominator is …’ should read ‘regietheater as strategy isn’t so bad after all, the lowest common denominator _in a diverse population_ is softporn (one of them anyway.)’
      Speaking of entertainment, of course. Otherwise, the lowest common denominator is food in your belly, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, medicine, and not being bombed. Dispensing glorified charity in form of subsidies to the opera enterprise doesn’t make it on the priority list.

    • Tristan says:

      whatever she is definitely right as Bayreuth has artistically become an absolute disaster
      The dreadful German media just didn’t realize yet like they haven’t when it comes to another one who left another disaster: the most overrated Angela Merkel

    • Gustavo says:

      Inviting well-served international veterans, Gatti and Byschkow, will certainly take some pressure off Katharina’s current leadership regime which is based on a narcissistic, inbred devotion to Wagner’s Germanic legacy.

      We simply need more serious music making and less cult around a specific family name or blood line.

      And more humour.

      • Pedro says:

        I agree. Muti should also be invited. The same with Salonen, who should also go there, judging from his magnificent Prelude and Liebestod last Sunday in Salzburg with the VPO.

    • sonicsinfonia says:

      No concert or opera audiences reflect our “diverse and colourful society”, largely because a large section of said society has no interest in classical music or opera.

    • soavemusica says:

      I`m sure a Green politician, who fancies rock “music”, has no artistic ideas on her own mind, when declaring:
      “not a reflection of our diverse, colourful society.’

      The audiende is already booing, but it may be just the ouverture.

      Not a tragedy, because each of Wagner`s operas contains so little music, no need to see the 17 hour productions.

    • RW2013 says:

      Quite true – I have never seen an LBTGQ§&%! on the Green Hill.

  • I beg your pardon says:

    Genuinely surprised how nobody bats an eyelid about the composer in question being an anti Semite, and how people conveniently turn their anger towards Netrebko instead. What a hypocritical world we live in.

    • Richard Slack says:

      I think eyelids have been batted since the composer’s life-time on his antisemitism and the extent to which it is reflected in his music. There is probably nothing else now to be said on it

  • JJ says:

    The critique, if it can be called such, is very generic, and the concern for artistic excellency no more than an afterthought. No, Mrs Roth’s main goal isn’t to rid the Festival (and the rest of Germany) of the regietheater productions booed in Bayreuth with regularity, her pet project is a ‘diverse, colorful’ audience for the Bayreuth Festival. Germany goes diverse. And she wishes a youthful audience in a country where the average age of the population is well past 40, a country struggling, like the rest of Europe, with economic challenges, with supporting refugees, a country in which only a minority of the older generation of the _regular_ population still have some money (and leisure time.) The Festival management will oblige her by sending a couple of tickets to schools, the more diverse the skin color of the beneficiaries the better, tickets that will be subsidized by the state, this goes without saying. Plus ça change but Claudia Roth will be able to tick a box.

    In this time and age nobody can accuse opera of elitism. Nobody is deprived of their Wagner, Youtube if full of all types of classical music for free. Before Youtube, the shops were full of audio recordings one could purchase for a fraction of the cost of a live performance ticket. If ‘diverse, colorful’ young people don’t attend the Festival it’s because they either 1. don’t care for Wagner, which isn’t reproachable, or 2. don’t care for regietheater productions, which isn’t reproachable either, or 3. don’t care for the singers, also not reproachable, or 4. don’t have the money. For the last there’s no cure if the state continues to do everything in their power to reduce the standard of living of the population. For the first there’s no cure either, and I don’t know why there should be one considered necessary; again, not caring for Wagner is by no means a crime. There isn’t a cure for 2. either (regietheater productions) if the state continues to subsidize them and the small coterie of critics hired precisely for this purpose, to praise them to the hilt. Instead of issuing vague statements Claudia Roth could, for a change, _do_ something. How about drastically cutting opera subsidies? Please note it is still possible to present live opera in concert performance format, which will save stage production costs. She’ll have to cut subsidies anyway when the majority of the population is going to struggle with energy bills. Or does she believe the ‘diverse, colorful’ (or anyone, for that matter, with the exception of the well-heeled) will prioritize opera above their immediate well being? The politicians are totally disconnected from the needs of the population… Doesn’t come as a surprise, considering how well they paid themselves.

    • Heifetz 63 says:

      “…the small coterie of critics hired precisely for this purpose, to praise them to the hilt.” — what a bullshit in your cliché ridden comment. The media in Germany is free, not hired, and reacted very critical to the new “Ring”! JJ, just read the newspapers. And even if some production are crazy or bad or unintelligent I can no longer stand this stamp “Regietheater”! Wagner himself invented Regietheater and without it, we would be poorer. You suggest, live opera in concert would be better. Nonsense, then it is no more opera. Opera is theatre, stupid. Just stop talking about things you don’t understand.

      • Clem says:

        Thank you. The ignorance and stupidity of some keyboard warriors is only matched by their arrogance and pomposity.

      • JJ says:


        The ‘free’ media is free to dance the tune of the newspaper’s owner, get real. Newspapers’ owners are more often than not up to their eyeballs in politics.

        ‘You suggest, live opera in concert would be better.’ Nope, I wrote that opera in concert format is less expensive to produce, but you keyboard warriors are so eager to call people ‘stupid’ you can’t even concentrate long enough to read the comment you are replying to.

    • JJ says:

      If someone is a lone keyboard warrior, that’s you, Clem. I did a search and sure enough, you are on all regietheater posts on this blog I cared to look at, doing exactly what I wrote in my comment, namely insulting the dissenters. You regietheater fritzen are a very insecure breed if you can’t write a comment without resorting to ad hominem. Applies to you as well, Heifetz. Are you sad that no one holds hands with you here, guys? Btw, my compliments to your Bieito. What a champ you are, Clem. He should remunerate you for your devoted work on this blog. Perhaps he does.

      Dear Clem, I allow that a modicum of intelligence is occasionally to be found in regietheater, at infrequent intervals and at odd locations, but on balance it’s the childish attention seeking act of a few navel gazers whose intelligent and emotional development has stopped abruptly at the onset of puberty, half a century ago. The normal population is born with a bullshit detector. Perhaps you can buy one for yourself. Without such a detector I am afraid that your consternation at our ability to remain afloat on the current sea of silliness is going to be a perpetual state.

      Remember that anything that can end will end, regietheater included. That should provide comfort to many and dismay to few. It may happen sooner than you think, though for the wrong reason – the money coffers are empty – but we will not look the gift horse in the mouth. Come winter the government will have greater worries than opera, with or without regietheater. I am afraid the smell of their soiled underwear will make it everywhere, even in that bubble of yours. Should you miss the Mickey Mouse masks, perhaps Disneyland can help you, and should you feel the urge to look at people sitting on toilets, visit your own bathroom and make a selfie, hairy legs, underwear and all, for the more naturalistic touch. Ah, the daring, and ah, the deep, deep meaning of it all.

    • Friedrich Alleswisser says:

      Perhaps Bayreuth should only put on operas if have they the requisite singers……Until that miracle happens , they can cancel the festival….

  • erich says:

    Claudia Roth is absolutely correct. Bayreuth in the last years has survived due to its name, not, regrettably, due to its standards. The false assumption that it is the Mecca of Wagnerian excellence has unfortunately not been the case for some time. As long as Katharina had the correcting influence of her half-sister Eva at her side, there was greater control over the choices of directors, singers and conductors. That seems to have gone by the wayside. The fact that the disgraceful Valentin Schwarz Ring had actually been ‘on ice’ due to the pandemic since 2020, theoretically giving Katharina plenty of time to discard some of its ludicrous excesses, speaks volumes for her lackadaisical attitude to her Festival – and to her public. Enough is enough. She should go and be replaced by a serious Intendant and/or Artistic Director.

    • Friedrich Alleswisser says:

      Claudia Roth is an idiot – the whole current administration is full of incompetents – including the Kanzler …

  • Concertgebouw79 says:

    I have seen the Ring. Great singers (Davidsen and Vogt especially) great orchestra. But of course Katherina must go away. It’s very simple. Nothing more to say.

    • Friedrich Alleswisser says:

      Davidsen and Vogt are “great singers ” ? Davidsen sounds like a foghorn – and Vogt – in the past we had Konya, King , Vickers , etc., this man sounds like a Smurf – he should be “singing’ in Broadway musicals , not opera…..

  • Malatesta says:

    Of course, Angela Merkel was by no means the first German Chancellor to offer protection to the Wagners.

  • Leo Doherty says:

    Surely the point of Bayreuth is to put on operas the way Wagner wanted them ie mountains, forests, lakes and caves. You can see these modern productions anywhere in the world.

    • Clem says:

      Absolutely right. Bayreuth is going to the dogs. I hear they even had a director who did away not only with the mountains, forests, lakes and caves, but with the entire scenery Waner prescribed! Can you image? What a disgrace! Wieland Wagner the guy’s name is, I believe. Cancel him!

    • Friedrich Alleswisser says:

      Can you imagine a “neo-realistic ” production of The Ring ? German critics will bare their fangs and scream ” Disneyland “…..

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    The Bayreuth audience has never been and will never be a reflection of the “colorful and diverse” society, but the reflection of a small, fanatical group of fans who love Wagner’s great work and music idolatrously. What she really wants to push is her deeply leftist-green ideology, imposing her muck of diversity and gender and quota crap on the entire cultural sector. The only real progress would be her dismissal.

  • william osborne says:

    Sure, Bayreuth could use some revival, but I remain far more wary of Green Party cultural politics. They often take a populist approach to culture that is misguided and superficial. Claudia Roth’s last job before she became a politician was managing the German rock band Ton Steine Scherben.

    The Green Party cultural minister of Baden-Württemberg tried to eliminate two of the music conservatories, and she failed at that, pressured them to increase the curriculum for folk and pop music with a stress on guitars.

    The conservatory where my wife teaches has a curriculum called “Music Design” that does not even require the students to be able to read music–misguided in my view even if study of music technology is vitally important.

    Be cautious before cheering on the Green Party’s cultural policies. Some of their ideas are good, but some are naïve, uneducated, and foolish

  • Criticalguest says:

    Bayreuth may need some advise, but certainly not from Mrs. Roth.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Instead of insisting that every art serve a diverse audience, how about cultivating diverse arts so that people have choices.

  • John Soutter says:

    Now Angie’s gone, Vlodoya is in tears all the way to Ukraine. Herzlichen Dank, Mutti, Tchuß!

  • Clem says:

    Mrs. Roth has been culture minister for less than a year and nothing in her career points to any affinity with the arts, let alone with innovation in art. She’s doing what politicians do: jump on the stage when there are easy points to score.

    Schwarz’s Ring may be a disaster (I only saw Götterdämmerung and hated it), but the Castorf Ring was a disaster too and in their review of Schwarz, The Wagner Journal called the Castorf Ring a “modern classic”. Mark Berry, arguably the most eminient Wagner critic in the English-speaking world, loathed much of Castorf’s Ring in 2014 and was “utterly bowled over” in 2016. What does this mean? That Bayreuth takes risks, as it should do. That Bayreuth as a “Werkstatte” still functions. That risks may pay off in the long term.

    Maybe Schwarz’s Ring will remain a disaster, but at the same time we have an astonishing, extremely innovative Tannhaüser production by Tobias Kratzer and an equally iconoclastic Holländer by Dmitri Tcherniakov – both cheered by the Bayreuth audience.

    An opera house that takes risks, will produce disasters once and a while. That’s the price you pay. I choose risk anytime over safe, repetitive and boring. In any case, the last thing Bayreuth needs is political mediocrities intervening. How would you react if Nadine Dorries intervened in Covent Garden?

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    Wagner’s original vision with updated technology could be spectacular. That would be genuine modernization. The public has become accostomed to extravagant visual effects from contemporary movies. Take the old-fashioned stodginess of Wagner’s era, which was, at the time, the height of “modern” stage production, and update it with better technics and more authentic costuming, and you will have all the excitement the music deserves.

    Not having seen the new productions, but having read and seen excerpts, it seems to me, that contemporary “re-interpreting” Wagner is rubbing most fans of Wagner the wrong way, because it betrays the melodrama of the period in time he was celebrating.

    Moviegoers, today, are happy with fantastic visions of quasi-medieval costumes, monsters, and the like. Wagner’s operas would fit right into that kind of treatment, and such would attract a younger audience.

    • Tamino says:

      And yet: “Sound is more than half of the movie experience”
      George Lucas

      visuals are somewhat interesting. the essence, the holy grail, is somewhere else.

  • jj says:

    Mrs Roth is either more naive than is good for her, or the small army of well paid busybodies always to be found around political persons, officially going by the name of consultants, are incompetent. Or she is too afraid to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem. The Bayreuth Festival is but the tip of the iceberg, the tip on which the sun of the media attention shines. The mediatization of the Festival is the only reason why what’s going on in Bayreuth has made it to Mrs Roth’s attention. Bad move for someone who is riding the populist wave. Regional houses not good enough for her?

    The B. Festival doesn’t offer anything that you can’t get in a regular opera house, often same stage directors, same conductors, even same singers, same type of productions featuring routine regurgitation of the same tired tropes, Oxfam costumes (charging the opera houses haute couture prices), shabby reductionist sets (at Little Versailles prices), and the tiresome supernumerary nudists with or without Mickey Mouse masks. The media is diligently nurturing the myth that the Bayreuth festival distinguishes itself from other opera houses through ‘artistic excellency’, that it has higher standards, that it offers something ‘special’, but the only special thing is the reputation created by the media (*). If Mrs Roth can’t see that what ails the Bayreuth Festival ails all German opera houses, perhaps she should open the window of the bubble in which she obviously lives; even better, open the door and step out. The problem is systemic. If Bayreuth needs artistic reforming, the entire opera business needs artistic reforming.

    (*) The Festival has become, by and large, a pilgrimage for fetishists. ‘OMG it’s the house Wagner himself has built.’ What do they expect there? To shake hands with Wagner’s spirit? Get a piece of true cross? Katharina is missing a revenue opportunity, by now some of the pilgrims are so self-indoctrinated, they’d pay for a bit of ‘authentic’ Holy Grail. I am not concerned for the Bayreuth Festival, they can take care of themselves financially. As long as there will be Gullible Believers, the Bayreuth Festival has a future.

    • JB says:

      Have you ever been to the Bayreuth festival ? Acoustics are outstanding and you will find the same experience nowhere else. Orchestra and choir are top-notch. There are less international star singers than at major houses in New York, London or Vienna, but you might discover some new talent. Many interesting stage productions (and some crap).

      Indeed Bayreuth needs reform. An intendant from outside the Wanger family might do a better job. They should open the house for other composers, imho they should commission new operas.

      I have zero confidence in Roth. Please spare us any “younger audience” and “diversity” nonsense.

      • JJ says:

        Yes to your first question, and yes, acoustics are excellent, but the Festspielhaus isn’t the only house on Earth with excellent acoustics. No, the experience is by no means unique but for the cultish atmosphere cultivated by media and audiences alike; cults aren’t my idea of enlighted communities. But attenting the Festival is expensive so what’s left to the regulars other than sell themselves the story of unique experience and cling to it, in order to justify their personal investment (time and money) to themselves? BTW this justification compulsion isn’t reserved just to the Bayreuth public, only the cult is. Many people feel the need to justify expensive purchases to themselves, from mobile phones to tickets. (The next step of the justification compulsion is hunting for cherry-picked ‘evidence’. Booklets, reviews, celeb quotes real or imagined, ranking lists published by identifiable or anonymous bloggers. When someone has reached this stage I know they’re very insecure. Posting Kim Kadashian’s (or whatever her name is) ‘thoughts’ about any subject means terminal stage. People who feel my words are too close to the mark for comfort will downvote my comment into oblivion, though the more likely outcome is nobody will read it, this post is on page two now.)

        Do my comments read like I have confidence in Mrs Roth? But don’t worry, she won’t do anything. Nor will the public for that matter, as long as they enjoy excess income. Plenty of opera goers criticize the opera establishment, yet most of them apparently return season after season. What’s the definition of insanity again? (Either it’s the same folks returning or it’s different folks every time, in which case opera managers should be overjoyed, mission accomplished, you’ve got your new audiences, you are just too dense to realize it. Turning them into regulars means they won’t be new anymore. What a conundrum.)

  • Janey says:

    They cultural-political elite of Germany (elsewhere too) need to try to put the sound, culture, rhythms and lyrics of rap music into Wagner. For.the.children.

  • Ransom Coates says:

    The best singers (such as they exist) simply will not spend the time required by the theater to produce repulsive junk. The acoustic remains ‘sans pareil’ and immediately recognizable. Under Thielemann the orchestra remains inspired. It’s that you cannot listen to the horrific singing, or, God forbid, actually be there and be forced to look at the unrecognized comedy on stage.