Wagner family power struggle over festival intensifies

26th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

The composer's great granddaughter launched a new move to gain control of what is one of the world's leading musical events.

Berlin -- The Richard Wagner family power struggle over the future of the Bayreuth opera festival emerged again after the composer's great granddaughter launched a new move to gain control of what is one of the world's leading musical events.

Nike Wagner announced Monday that she had teamed up with Paris Opera festival director Gerard Mortier to take over the running of the festival, which is held each year in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth.

The announcement by the 63-year-old Wagner that she was teaming up with Mortier, 64, came just days before the festival's foundation is to make a decision on who should succeed Wolfgang Wagner, the composer's grandson, who turns 89 this year.

There is a waiting list of more than five years for festival tickets for those wanting to make the Wagner pilgrimage to Bayreuth with about 500,000 people placing requests for the 58,000 tickets on sale. Opened in 1876, about 40 percent of the festival's funds come from public sources today.

Next week's foundation meeting was due to bring to an end years of feuding in the Wagner family over the festival's future and over who would take over the leadership from Wolfgang Wagner once he steps down at the end of the month after almost six decades in the post.

Wolfgang Wagner's daughters from his two marriages -- 30-year-old Katherine and 63-year-old Eva Wagner-Pasquier -- have also launched a joint bid to take over the leadership on what is known as the Green Hill, after the small hill where the festival's opera house is located.

The alliance between Katherine and her 63-year-old half sister appears to have won the blessing of Wolfgang Wagner, who has also come under pressure in recent years for his failure to give up his prestigious post.

The latest twist in the Wagner family drama came at the festival's latest season draws to a close.

A spokesman for the Society of Friends of Bayreuth, which is represented on the festival foundation, declined to comment on the Nike Wagner-Mortier candidacy saying that their proposal would first have to be read through.

Indeed, the surprise announcement from Nike Wagner, who at present heads up the annual arts festival in the German city of Weimar, sent ripples across the world of classical music.

The Belgium-born Mortier's present employer in Paris reacted with surprise to the news with a spokesman telling DPA that the Opera National de Paris was not aware of his plans.

Moreover, Mortier, who has been a controversial figure in classical music, had been expected to takeover as general manager and artistic director of the New York Opera next year.

A former director of Belgian Opera, Mortier became director of the renowned Salzburg Festival in 1991, shaking up his often staid audience with contemporary and sometimes controversial productions.

Nike Wagner told DPA that she "heartily welcomed" her cousin Eva Wagner-Pasquier to join her bid with Mortier. Nike Wagner is the daughter of Wolfgang Wagner's brother Wieland, who died in 1966.

-- Andrew McCathie

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