The current Bayreuth production of Siegfried featuring the Mount Rushmore of communism.
We took a brief look at the Bayreuth Festival when conductor Andris Nelsons bowed out of the opening night. Almost 60,000 people shuffle through Bayreuth every summer paying homage. However, as big a number as that is, the festival is exclusive to the extreme.
The demand for those 60,000 seats is estimated to be about 500,000. The wait time for tickets is between five and ten years. Name a current pop musician with that type of ticket demand. That's right. There are none.
...behind the scenes
Wagner writes about his idea for a festival as early as 1843. At that point, The Ring Cycle was still conceived of as one opera entitled Siegfried. Wagner also had the conception that Siegfried would be performed once on a temporary stage and then consigned to the flames.
This consumable artwork was an early idea of Wagner’s that, oddly, has come to pass in many ways. Wagner thought that if humanity was functioning at the peak of its creativity then art would be so pervasive that it would be switched out daily. All concerts would be of totally new music all the time.
How has this come to pass? It hasn’t, as such, but with technology it is possible to create art on an extremely expedited timetable. Many of us tend to resist this and consider posterity the ultimate judge, but Wagner was of a different mind early in his life.
The first of the Bayreuth Festivals was held in 1876 and ran up a deficit of what would equate to about half a million dollars today. Eventually Wagner wrangled a deal between Bayreuth and Munich that erased the debt.
The second start of the festival was in 1882 for the premiere of Parsifal. Wagner intended the Parsifal to only be performed at Bayreuth. The first fully staged production outside Bayreuth was in 1903 at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
The current festival features the Ring operas plus three other Wagner operas. If there is no Ring, then there are five individual operas presented. The productions have become more and more avant garde. This is supposed to be in keeping with Wagner's wishes, but some would argue that what happens at Bayreuth these days is not in keeping with the tradition.
Yet part of the tradition is no tradition.