One Goes Mad in Bayreuth

I went to see Tristan and Isolde and Holländer at the Bayreuth Festival last week.11800008_10153498833099723_2931347240964521354_n11825754_10153498833299723_4557928974560644916_n

Would I go again? Perhaps not. For a few reasons:

  • it is really really hot inside the Festspielhaus, with no air management or conditioning that I could detect, save the occasional light breeze, perhaps from doors being opened outside the auditorium, perhaps to generate air flow.  So, it was very hot, and I say that as someone who doesn’t mind the heat. One lady had to be carried out of the auditorium having been taken ill just when the Dutchman himself turned up. Outside temps were around 28 degrees when I saw fh. Inside it was probably at least 30 degrees in there. Doctors are on standby in case of illnesses.
  • It can be really expensive to go in comfort. Hotels are marked up about 50%. Finding one is tough!
  • I realised I am probably not a massive fan of Tristan and Isolde, especially with no surtitles. (sacrilege to mention surtitles!) I don’t advocate the place getting some, just that it wasn’t for me. My fault for chosing that piece.

Still, some good points:

  • my friend pointed me to a nice spring up the hill where one can bathe one’s feet, and there’s a hut vending ice cream and drinks there.
  • Internet booking must have opened up the festival to everyone – as the local government probably wished when it demanded changes to ticketing methods. Far from being a bastion of hauter and high art, one had the impression that most were  there for the music: to see it, rather than for the prestige of being seen. Further, I was expecting Glyndebourne levels of Evening Dress conformity, instead at Tristan there was about 50/50 split. Holländer had more. Next time I will probably go in a suit. My friend went in shorts to  Holländer and only got one comment, and one nasty look.
  • I met some great people! Discussing it with friends in the intervals and after is one of the best pleasures of the experience, just as Wagner had intended.
  • The music. The orchestral experience – the sound of the pieces – is like nothing I have ever heard. This is the drug which must help lure visitors back time after time, Euterpe (and Wagner’s visionary mind) have blessed this small house. The hooded pit and arrangement of musicians (quietest instruments at the front, strident brass to the very rear) projects the sound wonderfully: one revels in its lush envelopment. In the gallery this sound is somewhat diminished though. First or only time visitors would be well advised to splash out for stalls/parterre.
  • The satisfaction of hearing some amazing singing: George Zeppenfeld is amazing.
  • Oskar in town does nice food, and the buses are cheap.
  • The satisfaction of attaining and doing something I never thought I would do
  • Train (and rail replacement bus service…) from Nuremberg was convenient. About 1.5 hours with a change at Pegnitz, costing 10.80 euros. Flight from Stansted to Nuremberg was fine, and transfer to Nuremberg proper is cheap and easy (about 2.80 one way and 15 minutes to Nuremberg Hbf)
  • It can be really cheap: listening seats are 10 euros, restricted view about 35 euros. Gallery seats such as my second row Holländer was 45 euros. The local youth hostel has beds in dormitories for about 20euros a night.
  • UPDATE (10/08/15): One final thing I thought of: at the start, the auditorium descends into almost complete darkness. Tchaikovsky was right: “Wagner does not want his spectator to be distracted from the stage by anything whatsoever: rather, it would seem to the spectator that while he is listening to the music nothing else exits in the world apart from him and the stage”. In a world where auditoria are half-lit even at performances, this aspect was particularly noteworthy and enjoyable. Further just before the opera begins, the audience hushes itself almost as one: the noise dies down by itself, and the music begins. There is no applause for arias (not really that much coughing and no cellphones used), no bravos after showpiece numbers, only music in full conception realised. To go back to a “normal” opera house will be very strange.

I would have loved to see the Neuenfels Lohengrin, but alas, it is not to be. I am rather tempted by the full Ring next year, but it is Castorf’s petroleum fueled dystopia complete with crocodiles and silly stages: full blown Regie. Even a listening seat might work each night, but to go all that way just to listen? Part of me needs the Gesamtkunstwerk experience.

Booking for the next season opens on 31 Jan 201, 1400hrs CET.

Some More Photos:


The ceiling helps with the acoustic.


Looking down the Green Hill.


The pillars apparently create echo and resonance.


The man himself.


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