The premiere of Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan and Isolde" at the opening of the Bayreuth Festival on July 25 was greeted with thundering applause from the audience that included former Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Director Roland Schwab had set Wagner's drama about love and death against a spartan, futuristic setting, giving space to the themes of love and music to play out. Already after the first act the audience gave a loud ovation to soprano Catherine Foster as Isolde, and tenor Stephen Gould as Tristan, who had sung solo or in duet for long stretches.
Shortly before the premiere, the world-renowned annual festival was overshadowed by sexual assaultallegations. Victims include Katharina Wagner, the festival director and great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner.
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Meanwhile, climate activists hung a banner across trees on the route into Festival Hall reading, "The world can't afford the rich." The group had occupied the trees to demonstrate for more climate protection.
Premiere a success
At the state reception after the premiere, Katharina Wagner told the guests that she was "rather happy" considering the brief preparation time for the festival. "We have brought this production to the stage within a very short time, and I would like to thank all the contributors," she said.
Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth, stressed to the German Press Agency that a war is taking place, which is also a war against culture. "Russia is also attacking cultural institutions in Ukraine," she said.
The war also played a role for Roland Schwab. "The Ukraine war was at the back of my mind the whole time," the director told DW. "That's why I wanted to stage this love utopia, love as a basic human need and escape into another world." Schwab sees Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" as an "unconditionally positive piece" in these "disillusioning times."
Opera kept as a backup
The musical theater director was not hired to stage the opera based on a tragic romance in a Celtic legend until last December. Katharina Wagner had added the opera in the schedule as a backup, so to speak. In case of possible new COVID restrictions, operas with large choruses such as "The Flying Dutchman," "Lohengrin" or "Tannhäuser" could not have been performed. In fact, the COVID incidence rate is currently very high in Bayreuth.
A week ago, it was announced that "Tristan und Isolde" conductor Cornelius Meister would have to replace his colleague Pietari Inkinen, who had contracted COVID and could not conduct for Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung." The baton was passed to Markus Poschner for "Tristan und Isolde" instead.
"Of course, that was not easy for me to adjust to a new conductor on such short notice," said Roland Schwab. "After all, I had worked out everything together with Cornelius Meister in many rehearsals." However, despite the COVID hiccup, Poschner and the orchestra were also applauded enthusiastically.
The Bayreuth Festival will take place from July 25 to September 1. After a muted couple of years due to the pandemic, this year more operas than ever before will be performed. The festival is a cultural institution in Germany and throughout Europe. It focuses on the work of 19th century German composer Richard Wagner.
Author Gaby Reucher
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