Technology emphasizes end of an era at Wagner festival

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Wolfgang Wagner steps down as Wagner festival enters the internet age with big screen broadcasts and worldwide streaming of the composer's work

It is a sign of the times that one of Germany's most traditional music festivals has embraced the concept of big screen broadcasts.

Known simply by the English 'Public Viewing' in German, the crowds and technology more associated with major sporting events met Friday in the context of the Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Bavaria. The performance of Der Meistersinger von Nurenburg inside Bayreuth's tiny opera house was for the first time relaid to around 15,000 fans outside, creating a party atmosphere and heralding a new age in the history of the festival.

The same broadcast was also available to opera fans around the world via a revamped festival website for the princely sum of 49 euro.

The yearly festival is dedicated entirely to the works of 19th century German composer and musical heavyweight Richard Wagner.

Due to the demand for tickets Bayreuth has long been one of Germany's most exclusive festivals, but the availability of high art to the great unwashed is not the only significant thing about the 2008 event.

This year sees the final appearance by Wolfgang Wagner as head of the festival. He has been organising the festival since the 1950s but as of 2009 the festivities in Bayreuth will be organised by two younger members of the Wagner clan, Eva Wagner-Pasquier and her half sister Katharina Wagner. Katharina already has a large amount of artistic involvment, including updated stagings and redesigns of a number of her great-great grandfather's works.

Despite it being his final flourish, 88-year old Wolfgang was not present at the glitzy opening night reception.

Katharina Wagner told the press: "For my father it was a beautiful evening and very nostalgic. He liked it [the opera], but it was too stressful for him to come to the reception as well."

Dominic Hinde

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