Wagner's great-granddaughters take reins in Bayreuth

23rd July 2009, Comments 0 comments

This year’s Bayreuth Festival will be the first edition of the world's oldest and most prestigious music festival under the joint leadership of Wagner’s great-granddaughters.

Vienna -- Just two years ago, Katharina Wagner, 31, and her 64-year-old half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier barely knew each other and had only met a handful of times.

But on Saturday, when the curtain goes on the 2009 Bayreuth Festival, the two great-granddaughters of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) will stand side by side in front of the Festspielhaus opera house on the town's legendary "Green Hill," to welcome the guests as they arrive in their limousines.

It will be the first edition of the world's oldest and most prestigious music festival under their joint leadership.

And Katharina insists that their personal and professional relationship has grown and deepened in the year since their nomination.

"In the first few months of our working together, we've found that we're both very much moving along the same path," the 31-year-old told the monthly Opernglas magazine in its latest edition.

Katharina, born May 21, 1978, is the only child from her father Wolfgang's second marriage, to Gudrun, nee Armann, who died unexpectedly at the age of 63 in November 2007.

Eva, on the other hand, was born April 14, 1945, to Wolfgang and his first wife Ellen Drexel, whom he divorced in 1976.

Until the split, Eva and Wolfgang had been close, so much so that she came to be seen as his "right-hand man."

"I was a father's daughter. It was a very strong relationship. He worshipped me as he worships Katharina today," she once said in a rare interview.

At his side, she got to know the Festspielhaus and its workings inside out from an early age and became a sort of "girl Friday" who discovered the German tenor Peter Hofmann, and was even co-responsible for casting and organisation of Patrice Chereau's legendary 1976 Ring cycle.

But that all changed when Wolfgang left his wife for his secretary, Gudrun, who was just a year old than Eva.

Eva took her mother's side and was consequently cast out of Bayreuth.

So deep was the rift that when the festival's ruling body, the Stiftungsrat, officially named Eva as Wolfgang's successor in March 2001, the white-haired autocrat openly rubbished her abilities and suitability for the post.

She had, in fact, a long and successful experience as artistic consultant and casting director in some of the world's top opera houses, including Houston, Madrid, Paris, Seattle and New York and the Aix-en-Provence festival in France.

She also oversaw opera and concert productions for the Munich-based classical music company Unitel Films.

The unexpected death of Gudrun Wagner in November 2007 opened the way for a reconciliation between father and his eldest daughter. And instead of teaming up with her cousin Nike Wagner for a joint leadership bid as originally planned, Eva agreed to join Katharina instead.

Her much younger half-sister certainly represents the new face of Bayreuth.

A self-confessed fan of the German industrial metal band Rammstein, Katharina's direct manner, with her broad Franconian dialect, is disarmingly unpretentious.

Tall, with long blonde hair, she has occasionally made the headlines in the tabloid press, not least over her love life.

She sees herself as hip and tech-savvy and has brought Bayreuth into the 21st century, masterminding podcasts and the first Internet broadcast from the hallowed halls of the Festspielhaus.

She was also behind the first ever public-viewing of a performance from last year's festival that was broadcast live to a giant screen in a park in Bayreuth. And this year, she has come up with the idea of "Wagner for Kids."

Although she was groomed by her father from a very early age to become his successor, Katharina insists that Bayreuth is not her sole aim in life.

"When I get really down, I ask myself whether this is what I really want at the age of 30," she said in a recent interview published in the weekly Die Zeit.

"Did I want to inherit such a big house and such a huge responsibility? What more is there to achieve?"

Katharina has certainly logged up a respectable career as an opera director in her own right.

She made her debut with her great-grandfather's The Flying Dutchman in Wuerzburg in 2002. She followed that up with another Wagner work Lohengrin in Budapest in 2004 and has directed operas in Berlin, Bremen and Munich, albeit mostly to a mixed critical reception.

But perhaps the high point of her career so far was The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at the 2007 Bayreuth Festival, making her the youngest-ever and only female director on the Green Hill.

She will stage Tristan and Isolde in Bayreuth in 2015.

Simon Morgan/AFP/Expatica

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