Greetings from Germany, where I'll be visiting places new and familiar over the next week, mostly in commemoration of Wagner's 200th birthday on May 22. Germany has struggled in the recent past with how openly to celebrate Wagner, thanks largely to Hitler's co-opting his operas for his own propagandist purposes. But, with memories of those days now passing into history, the country seems ready to fully embrace its most prolific Romantic composer.
On Sunday, I drove straight from Berlin to Bayreuth, where Wagner lived the last decade of his life and where he built his Festpielhaus: the festival theater used to stage the original Ring and Parsifal and long a Mecca of sorts for Wagner fans around the globe. The festival—run now, as always, by members of the Wagner family—is held each year in July and August, but on Sunday, the opera house was made open to the public, allowing visitors to wander around the stage, stand in the orchestra pit, and try on wigs and costumes from the atelier.
I arrived towards the end of the day, and my initial impression was that the house was much smaller than I imagined—less than half the size of the Met. That was deliberate, according to one of the staffers who showed me around: the compact size was the only way to achieve the famous balanced sound, which is as loud and clear from the furthest gallery seat as it is in the orchestra. (This was also possible thanks to the entire auditorium being suspended like a giant echo box.) In addition, the house's small size helped add to the festival's aura of exclusivity, which I can certainly vouch for as someone who has applied for (and failed to receive) tickets for the festival for well over a decade.
I'll be back in the Festpielhaus tomorrow night for a gala Birthday Concert, followed by a "Birthday Party" in the Bayreuth Stadthalle. But, I'll never forget my first peek behind one of music's most exclusive curtains.
More pics on the photo page.