Psst... wanna buy a ticket?: The struggle to get into Bayreuth

24th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Entry to the legendary "Festspielhaus" on Bayreuth's famed "Green Hill" remains one of the hardest-to-come-by tickets on the opera and classical music scene today.

Vienna -- Many roads lead to the Bayreuth Festival, the prestigious annual month-long summer music fest celebrating the works of Richard Wagner.

But whichever the path, entry to the legendary "Festspielhaus" on Bayreuth's famed "Green Hill" remains one of the hardest-to-come-by tickets on the opera and classical music scene today.

Unfortunately, the simplest and most obvious way -- application by post -- is perhaps also the longest and the one requiring most stamina.

Every year, the Bayreuth ticket office receives applications for eight or nine times the actual number of tickets on sale -- just under 60,000 for 30 performances of seven different Wagner operas between July 25 and August 28.

On that count alone, the wait can be nearly 10 years until your number comes up.

You must complete and send off the application form as soon as the tickets go on sale in the autumn, even if you've got something else planned for the next summer. Miss a year and you get sent back to the bottom of the list.

If you're lucky and get allocated a ticket, you'll hear by December. Rejections arrive in January.

But depending on which operas you apply for and when, the waiting list can be shorter. If you insist on attending only the premieres of the new productions, you'll wait the longest -- press reports this year put the waiting period at 13 years.

And if your ambition is to see the complete Ring -- Wagner's mammoth 16-hour four-opera cycle -- the waiting list is also longer because you can only buy tickets for all of it, not piecemeal.

By contrast, if you're content to see one of the individual shorter operas in a production in its third or fourth year, and you're happy with attending a performance towards the end of the month-long season, you may be lucky in cutting the waiting list down a little.

Some Wagner fans try to beat the system by submitting multiple applications, something which is strictly speaking forbidden. The idea is easy: you use a variation of your own name or the name of a family member and stagger the applications over different years.

Unfortunately, lots of people do the same, probably one of the reasons for the huge number of applications received each year.

Joining the Society of Friends of Richard Wagner is also an option -- they have a large contingent of all the tickets on sale. But membership criteria are strict and you have to make a substantial annual donation. And while the number of tickets allocated to the Society remains the same, the number of members is growing fast.

The black market is another option, but notoriously expensive. And you could end up paying well over the odds for a forgery which, because there are never any empty seats, will immediately be found out as soon as the owner of the real ticket turns up and throws you out of their seat.

In recent years, the festival organisers have clamped down more rigorously on black market ticket sales, even threatening to turn away ticket holders who have bought their tickets from sources other than the festival office itself or its approved agents.

In theory, ticket holders are required to carry a piece of photo-ID with them when entering the theatre, even if that rule is rarely applied.

Organisers also regular monitor ticket sales via Internet auction sites such as eBay, where tickets are regularly posted in the run-up to festival.

Currently on offer on Monday on eBay Deutschland, for example, was a pair of top-price tickets for The Mastersingers of Nuremberg with a face value of 225 euros (315 dollars) apiece or 450 euros together, going for 698 euros the pair.

Officially, ticket prices range from 14 euros to 225 euros per performance.

Year in, year out, a huddle of incorrigible optimists can be seen queuing nightly throughout the season for returns at the box office. And once in a blue moon, one or two them actually get lucky.

What's on at this year's Bayreuth Festival:

The Bayreuth Festival, the annual month-long summer music fest dedicated to Richard Wagner (1813-1883), is staging seven operas this year.

The curtain rises the 98th Richard Wagner Festspiele, on July 25, with a revival of a production of Tristan and Isolde by Swiss director Christoph Marthaler.

But the festival, which runs until August 28, will also see, for the first time, a new series entitled Wagner for Kids, with 10 performances of a specially adapted version of The Flying Dutchman, made palatable for six-to-10 year-olds.

Following is a list of the operas being performed on Wagner's fabled "Green Hill" this year:

--- Tristan and Isolde in a revival of Christoph Marthaler's bleak but highly intelligent reading, with US tenor Robert Dean Smith and Swedish soprano Irene Theorin in the title roles. Termed a "music drama", the work was written between 1857 and 1859. First performed in 1865 in Munich and first performed in Bayreuth in 1866. Marthaler's is the 10th Tristan to be staged in the Festspielhaus. Conductor is German "kapellmeister" Peter Schneider.

--- The Mastersingers of Nuremberg in Katharina Wagner's uproarious staging, which enters its third year. At its premiere in 2007, it was roundly booed by audiences and divided the critics. The production was the first from Bayreuth to be broadcast over the Internet last year and was also shown in a free public viewing. It has since been released on DVD.

Katharina, 31, has taken over the running of Bayreuth along with her much older half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 64. Their father, Wolfgang, who turns 90 in August and has ruled Bayreuth with an iron hand since 1951, stepped down in August 2008.

Meistersinger was reputedly one of the favourite operas of Adolf Hitler, who claimed to have seen it more than 200 times. Wagner's portrayal of one of the characters, Sixtus Beckmesser, is felt to be anti-Semitic and the closing speech of the main character Hans Sachs is effectively a eulogy to the sanctity and purity of German art and the German "Reich".

Wagner first conceived Meistersinger in 1845, but did not begin work on the libretto in earnest until 1861 and only completed the opera in 1867. It was first performed in Bayreuth in 1888 and has seen 10 different stagings in Bayreuth since then. The current production marked Katharina's directing debut in the legendary "Festspielhaus" theatre built to Wagner's own designs. Conducting the production will be German maestro Sebastian Weigle.

--- The Ring of the Nibelung in the third revival of the 2006 production by German theatre director and writer, Tankred Dorst. His production of the sprawling 16-hour tetralogy comprising Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods was universally mauled by critics when first unveiled in 2006 and has drawn no kinder comments since. The Ring is arguably Wagner's masterpiece and was first performed in its entirety at the first-ever Bayreuth Festival in 1876. Dorst's production is the 13th complete staging on Bayreuth's famous "Green Hill". It is conducted by German star conductor Christian Thielemann, widely seen as the festival's GMD or general music director.

--- Parsifal, Wagner's last opera, in the first revival of last year's critically acclaimed new production by Norwegian director Stefan Herheim. Parsifal was dubbed by the composer as a "stage consecrational festival-play" and was premiered in Bayreuth in 1882. It is one of only three works by Wagner to have received their world premiere in Bayreuth's Festspielhaus. Indeed, Parsifal was not allowed to be performed outside Bayreuth until 1913. Herheim's production is the ninth-ever staging of Parsifal in Bayreuth. It replaces a previous one by the self-styled provocateur of German theatre, Christoph Schlingensief, which was dropped in 2007 after only four runs.

In the pit will be Italian maestro Daniele Gatti, who also conducted the first run last year.

--- Wagner for Kids: The Flying Dutchman. In a new project masterminded by Katharina Wagner, Wagner's first "mature" opera from 1841 has been specially adapted for six-to-10 year-olds. It will not be performed in the Festspielhaus itself, but on one of the four rehearsal stages adjacent to the opera house. The new version is for a 19-member chamber orchestra and will be performed by the Kammerphilharmonie Leipzig. It will receive a total 10 performances between July 25 and August 2, with free entrance to children and adults paying 20 euros.

Tristan and Meistersinger will each be performed six times during the month-long festival; Parsifal will receive five performances and the Ring will receive three complete performances, with one additional performance of the fourth part, Twilight of the Gods, making 30 performances in all between July 25 and August 28.

Simon Morgan/AFP/Expatica

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