Germany 2013: Wagner 200th Birthday Concert in Bayreuth
Germany 2013: Leipzig

Germany 2013: Interview with Sven Friedreich, Director of the Wagner Museum

Haus Wahfried, Bayreuth

After all of the Wagner-related concerts and historic sites I've been to this week, it felt like an oasis of calm to spend my last hour in Bayreuth yesterday with Dr. Sven Friedrich, Director of the Wagner Museum and Archives, and Haus Wahnfried, the stately home Wagner built for himself in the 1870s. As you can see from the picture above, Wahnfried is currently undergoing renovations, and isn't expected to reopen until 2015. Dr. Friedrich spoke with me about that, and a whole host of other Wagner-related topics. Check out some highlights after the jump:

On the Museum's Closure: Of course, it is unfortunate that the museum is closed this year, of all years. But, the renovations were absolutely necessary, and long overdue. We first had plans to renovate the museum in 2001, but could not raise the funding because these types of donations are not tax deductible in Germany, the way they are in the States. So, we had to rely on the government for funding, and it's just not their highest priority. The other reason it's been so difficult to raise money is because the museum is managed by the Wagner Foundation, which also oversees the Festival. Of course, they get the majority of the funding. Basically, we are just the ugly stepchild. 

On the Archives: We have all of the manuscript scores, most of Wagner's manuscript writings, including Mein Leben, and some 4,000 letters of correspondence from both Wagner and Cosima. None of it is here at the moment—most of it is in Munich, with the rest in Bamberg. Of course, we will get it all back once the museum reopens.

On the Festival: When Wolfgang (Wagner's grandson) ran the festival, he ran it as a private enterprise, which meant that nothing ever changed. But when he died in 2010, the Festival became a public institution. Now, things must change, but that has proven to be very difficult so far. For one thing, now the unions are involved, which they should be. But, everything takes much longer. 

On Modern Productions: All tht time, I hear people refer to the Festival productions as "Eurotrash," which, indeed, they are. But, you reap what you sow. We have become trash ourselves, and the productions reflect that, which I think is what Wagner would have wanted. This morning, I met with Frank Castorf, director of the new Ring. He's recasting the quest for the Rheingold as the hunt for oil. The first scene is set at a gas station on Rt. 66; the last is at Mt. Rushmore, where the Presidents have been replaced by Karl Marx, Lenin, and other socialists. I think it's well conceived, and very relevant.

Incidentally, I think it would be amazing for the festival to invite (Quentin) Tarantino to direct an opera. He is my favorite director: the way he uses cheap, pulp storytelling to address big, cosmic issues is completely Wagnerian. Just look at Django Unchained.

On Bayreuth: I've lived here for 20 years now, and Bayreuth really is just a small cow town. Most people here don't even care about Wagner, which makes it difficult to work with the city government to get anything done. 

On Wagnerism: People are drawn so powerfully to Wagner because—and this was quite deliberate—he fused religion and art. Which he felt was necessary in a world which even then was becoming increasingly secular. But this is also very dangerous, because it can inspire dangerous, aggressive impulses in people.

On Wagner's Music: It really is striking to me, how deeply people relate to Wagner's music all over the globe. As a German, I couldn't understand how people from Japan or Korea could grasp what Wagner is all about. But the more people I meet, the more I realize that there is something universal about this music that deeply resonates with people, no matter where they come from. 

On Conductors: [Christian Thielemann's] Ring was pretty good, but the best I've seen was when [James] Levine came here several years ago—so passionate and full of energy! Levine conducts from the heart, which is exactly what Wagner always wanted from his conductors. You are so lucky to have him in New York!