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Bayreuth pays homage to Wagner on 200th birthday

23 may 2013, 15:36
0
A new sculpture of late German composer Richard Wagner. ©AFP
A new sculpture of late German composer Richard Wagner. ©AFP
Bayreuth paid tribute to composer Richard Wagner on what would have been his 200th birthday here Wednesday with a rare concert in the town's legendary Festpielhaus theatre, AFP reports.

While a small crowd of onlookers braved blustery showers and chilly winds outside the theatre that sits atop Bayreuth's fabled Green Hill, Wagnerians from all over the world rubbed shoulders inside with Bavaria's political and social elite for one of the main highlights in the Wagner bicentenary.

"We are here to celebrate one of the world's great geniuses, one who was a legend and a myth even during his lifetime," said Bavaria's regional state premier Horst Seehofer in a short speech.

"Everywhere around the world from Brussels to Berlin and from Boston to Abu Dhabi, people are in Wagner fever this year."

Built to the composer's own designs, the Festspielhaus is normally open only for a few weeks each year during the world-famous summer festival dedicated exclusively to Wagner's works.

On the anniversary programme were a number of excerpts from his best-known operas.

The Bayreuth Festival's unofficial chief conductor, German maestro Christian Thielemann, directed the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra in a performance of Act 1 of "The Valkyrie", the Prelude and "Liebestod" from "Tristan and Isolde", Siegfried's Rhine Journey and Funeral March from "Twilight of the Gods" and the overture to "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg".

The star line-up of soloists, tumultuously applauded, were South African tenor Johan Botha, Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and South Korean bass Kwangchul Youn.

The waiting list for tickets for the annual summer festival runs to 10 years or more.

The process was nowhere so long and arduous for the bicentenary concert, but were still almost immediately sold out when they went on sale last year.

"It's always been our dream to come to Bayreuth. I've loved Wagner's music since I was at school. But we've never got tickets before," beamed Horst and his wife Elsa, both pensioners from Saarbruecken.

"This is amazing. I've been to Bayreuth once before, but never to a concert. I bought this ticket as soon as it went on sale on the Internet," said Patrick, from Edinburgh, who was wearing a kilt.

The Festspielhaus with its incomparable acoustics is only rarely used as a concert venue.

The last time one was played there was in 2010 in honour of Wolfgang Wagner, the composer's grandson, who ran the festival for nearly 60 years until his death that year.

Before that, a concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- one of the few works not by Richard Wagner to be performed there -- was played in 2001 to mark the 125th anniversary of the festival itself.

Wagner was born in Leipzig on May 22, 1813 and died in Venice on February 13, 1883.

The favourite composer of Adolf Hitler, Wagner is still a controversial figure because of his anti-Semitic views.

His great-grandson Gottfried Wagner in a recent interview with AFP denounced him as a narcissist, a woman-hater and an anti-Semite.

The bicentenary celebrations have been planned long in advance. The festival management and municipal authorities of Bayreuth have nevertheless come under fire because the Richard Wagner Museum, housed in the composer's former home Wahnfried, is closed for renovation.

Scaffolding also surrounds the crumbling facade of the Festspielhaus itself.

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