A Wagnerian hoax?
An ‘illegitimate son’ seeks Wagner post as it get filled by half-sisters
Bayreuth, Germany -- Germany's Wagner opera festival confirmed receiving an unsuccessful, last-minute application to run the event from a person claiming to be the illegitimate son of Wieland Wagner, who died in 1966.
"It sounded to me like a hoax," said festival board chairman Toni Schmid, commenting on the bizarre application from "Richard Bauer, aged 44." Others suggested it might have been a contemporary shock-art "happening."
The opera post was jointly awarded Monday to Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, great-granddaughters of composer Richard Wagner, passing over rivals Nike Wagner and her business partner Gerard Mortier. The festival is always run by a Wagner descendant.
Michael Hohl, mayor of Bayreuth and a board member, said the application offered neither evidence of Bauer's opera knowledge nor any evidence of his paternity: "We got it today," he said. "I found it slightly nasty."
"If he is genuine, he didn't go about it the right way," Schmid added.
Officials said they had never heard of Richard Bauer.
The applicant said their policy was to hand out tickets free and raise money with a TV series about the Wagner family's turmoil- filled history. Bauer would change his surname to "Wagner" if given the job.
After the initial Sunday evening announcement, an e-mail distributed Monday threatened to exercise a Wagner descendant right of veto over the Monday appointment, and to enforce this by court order.
The mail was in the name of "Bauer's spokeswoman," who said he was entitled to a hearing over his proposals before a decision.
Contacted by DPA and asked if the mails were a hoax or a "happening," the woman said she was not authorized to comment and only "Richard Bauer" could comment. He was unavailable for comment.
A delicate compromise
Until his death, Wieland Wagner was joint head of the festival with his brother Wolfgang, now 89, who retired on Sunday. He had run one of the world's most eminent high-culture events for 58 years as director for life and clung to the job even as he became frail.
The new directors, half-sisters, overcame mutual dislike to establish a delicate compromise that won the father's approval and a 22-2 vote of support Monday from the board, whose members had openly worried that the festival was under-funded and at risk of growing stale.
The next move will be to negotiate a contract with the sisters.
Their great-grandfather, 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner, built his own theatre in the provincial town of Bayreuth to showcase his notion of integrating myth, music, words and scenery into a "total" work of art.
The theatre is only used for the four-week summer program, usually consisting of four operas chosen from the Wagner oeuvre of 10. The sisters say they will not perform any other composer's work.
Though the board is mainly appointed by government agencies, which subsidize the festival, by tradition Wagner descendants always run the event. Wagner relations control only four of the 24 board seats.
Bernd Neumann, junior minister for culture in the office of Wagner-loving German Chancellor Angela Merkel, praised the decision as a "sustainable solution in terms of people and content" and promised government aid for the event in the new era.
The sisters, daughters of Wolfgang by different wives, said in a statement they aimed to preserve the "uniqueness" of the festival, but added they had not yet negotiated exactly how to divide up their responsibilities.
No lifetime appointment
Eva Wagner-Pasquier, who was offered the same job in 2001 by government board members but was effectively vetoed by her own father, said she would concentrate on casting and orchestral appointments, but would not direct productions.
She said she would leave public relations to the younger sister.
The elder Wagner's resignation was widely seen as the consequence of the death last year of his wife Gudrun, who had detested her stepdaughter and championed her own offspring Katharina.
On Monday, Katharina scotched fears that she too would seek a lifetime appointment, saying, "Lifetime would be a nightmare."
Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's enthusiasm for the myth-laden music has added another layer to the complex Wagner story, though Wagner enthusiasts deny that this taints the genius of the composer, who died in 1883, long before the Nazi era.
Today, Wagnerians face a waiting list of up to 10 years for once-in-a-lifetime tickets to a single opera during the festival.