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The truth about Bayreuth's links with Hitler - every nook and cranny to be searched

29 June 2009, Bayreuth, Germany

The past: Hitler with Winifred Wagner
The past: Hitler with Winifred Wagner

The future: Katharina Wagner's new era of openness
The future: Katharina Wagner's new era of openness

Bayreuth’s Nazi past to come under renewed scrutiny

Adolf Hitler’s links to the Bayreuth Festival are to be fully investigated, said Katharina Wagner, the 31-year-old great granddaughter of the composer who took over as the Festival’s co-director last year. Ms Wagner – known for her iconoclastic approach to Bayreuth’s traditions and its identity – made her announcement at a press conference to launch Bayreuth’s current season (opening on 25 July), which includes revivals of the Ring cycle and of Katharina’s own controversial production of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.

Bayreuth has struggled to shake off its Nazi associations: Hitler’s friendship with the Wagner family is well documented. He attended the festival every summer and it seems certain that Bayreuth’s ethos in the early 20th century played a part in shaping his personal political ideology. He had a close relationship with Katharina’s British-born grandmother Winifred (excellently recounted in Brigitte Hamann’s book, Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth), and the Nazi regime generously supported the Festival at a time when many other areas of Germany’s cultural life were being squeezed.

However some commentators feel that there is little left to unearth about the Hitler’s links to the Wagner family and that Katarina's comments are another indication of her media-savvy approach to running the Festival. Ms Wagner’s gesture certainly has more than a ring of a publicity stunt about it, at a time when Bayreuth is actively seeking sponsors and is opening out its audience base for the first time.

Meanwhile, Katharina’s has insisted that ‘every nook and cranny’ of the festival’s archives will have to be investigated so that Bayreuth can come to terms with a dark chapter in its history. ‘There's a shadow hanging over Bayreuth,’ she said, ‘and I feel a responsibility to try to get some clarity’.

In other related developments, Katharina Wagner has backed an initiative to put plaques in Bayreuth's park which point out that Arno Brekker, the creator of sculptures of Richard and Cosima Wagner, was Hitler's favourite sculptor.

Next year she also plans to host an exhibition on ‘silenced voices’ about the expulsion of Jews from Germany’s opera houses. Richard Wagner’s villa, Haus Wahnfried, where Hitler was a frequent guest, will also establish a permanent exhibition of the festival’s Nazi history.


Opera in Nice faces an uncertain future

22 June 2009, Nice, France

Amanda Holloway reports from the Cote d'Azur

A spectacular production of Aida, complete with galloping horses full-size palm trees and tonnes of sand, ended a successful 2008/9 season for the Opéra de Nice. It was a dramatic triumph for the director, Paul-Émile Fourny, and conductor Marco Guidarini produced wonderful performances from soloists, orchestra and large chorus. But prospects for the next season are looking less rosy.

The future of the opera company, and classical music in Nice generally, may be in jeopardy. The Opéra is run directly by the City of Nice, and the Culture Minister has so far failed to renew the contract of General Director Paul-Émile Fourny.

It is rumoured that the City plans to merge the opera orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice, with that of Cannes, creating a 'regional' orchestra and effectively removing the close relationship between orchestra and opera company. Music Director of the Philharmonique, Marco Guidarini, has turned down the chance to lead the newly merged orchestra, although he has applied for the job of artistic director of Nice Opera.

Meanwhile, the opera is unable to announce its 2009/10 season until decisions about its artistic leadership have been resolved.

Opera Now will run a full report from Nice in its September/October issue.

News Round Up

19 June 2009

  • London’s Royal Opera House (ROH) is to build a £60m production park in on a 14 acre site in Thurrock, Essex.  Visitors to the park will be able to watch new sets being built in Covent Garden’s workshops and view famous costumes such as the one worn by Maria Callas when she gave her last performances as Tosca at the opera house. The site will host a skills academy where school leavers can train as technicians for the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics and world tours by acts such as Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. A full-size stage will serve as a training area. The ROH considered relocating to Essex, in the far east of London not far from the Olympic Village, only after the Olympics organisers compulsorily purchased the land where its workshops stood. The props and scenery park is now likely to play a part in reviving the Thames Gateway region, creating 250 jobs and 2,250 training posts and apprenticeships.

  • The Board of Opera Australia has ordered an independent review of its organisation after a 10 per cent drop in ticket sales and a AUS$4 million writedown of its capital fund value. With audience numbers down and difficult economic conditions predicted,  OA chairman Ziggy Switkowski said ‘we have to make decisions and possible changes now to ensure that the opera's performance in a financial sense is appropriate for the expected tough years ahead.’  Meanwhile, the OA Board has signalled its confidence in the management of OA by stating that chief executive Adrian Collette's performance will not be included in the review, despite calls last year for his resignation in the wake of the death of OA’s music director Richard Hickox .
  • In other financial news:
  • Arizona Opera has cut its spending plans drastically for its next season, although its artistic output remains unchanged. Several senior positions have been consolidated, staff layoffs and furloughs were implemented, salaries have been reduced across the board

    Milwaukee’s Skylight Opera has eliminated the position of artistic director, held since August 2004 by William Theisen. The artistic director’s duties will be consolidated under the general director, Eric Dillner. The move has caused some controversy, with Theisen regarded as a popular local figure.

  • The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama has appointmented soprano Barbara Bonney as The Jane Hodge Foundation International Chair in Voice, funded by the Jane Hodge Foundation.

  • The winner of Chicago Opera Theater’s second annual People’s Opera contest is Shostakovich’s Moscow, Cheryomushki.  The satirical opera, about the financial, political and sexual machinations that ensue around a new housing development in Moscow, occupied the lead spot throughout the competition that ran between 15 April and 15 June.  People voted with their money to choose one of the operas to be presented in Chicago Opera Theatre’s 2011 Season – with one dollar giving one vote.  More than $33,000 was raised towards the production.  Strauss’ Capriccio came in second place and Mozart’s The Magic Flute finished third.  

Confessions of a Wagner virgin

19 June 2009, Seattle, USA

As part of its ongoing audience-building programme, Seattle Opera has announced a video project featuring a young opera-goer’s first experience of Wagner’s Ring cycle, being staged by the company in late summer.   19 year-old Cassidy Quinn Brettler, a Seattle resident, will present the film (‘Confessions of a First-Time Opera-goer’) having previously had minimal exposure to opera. Her task will involve talking to performers, artistic staff and Ring fans, while exploring behind the scenes and attending rehearsals. The film will be put together by female students on a Reel Grrls media training programme.  

Brettler, a media and drama student at Emerson College in Boston, had to fight off the challenge of 49 other would-be presenters, the result coming down to an online poll. Says Brettler: ‘When I was little I thought operas were just things that old people went to, but then I saw Hansel and Gretel a few years ago and really liked it.   Brettler reckons she now wants to ‘show everyone how much variety truly exists in the opera genre’. Wagner’s Ring she proclaims as ‘very unique and interesting.’  

The progress of Brettler’s work on ‘Confessions’ can be followed online via her own Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as on a range of Seattle Opera platforms - the company’s own website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Perfect pitch: new instruments for old sounds at the Glyndebourne Festival

18 June 2009, Glyndebourne, UK

Tony Robson tries out one of the new instruments
Tony Robson tries out one of the new instrumentsSimon Laundon

In its quest of an ‘authentic early English sound’ Glyndebourne’s forthcoming new production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (a festival first) will use a set of new instruments made specifically for the production. Glyndebourne’s associate orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, will perform on an entirely new collection of instruments, designed to sound at Purcell’s pitch standard A405, exactly three quarters of a tone flatter than modern concert pitch (A440), and slightly lower than the now conventional ‘Baroque pitch’ (A415).  

Tony Robson, oboe and recorder player for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has been working extensively with Southampton University Purcell specialist Andrew Pinnock to source the various instruments. Speaking about the process, Pinnock said that ‘it was a project lots of us wanted to see happen, for a very long time. I’ve been talking to Tony Robson and Glyndebourne for well over a decade.’ Simply finding and waiting for the instruments for The Fairy Queen took two to three years.

Glyndebourne’s authentic approach has prompted something of a reappraisal of the possibilities of late17th-century English orchestral sound. On the evidence of the rehearsals for Fairy Queen, the psychological and physical effects of the music on both performers and audiences are quite different at the lower pitch of Purcell’s day. ‘Baroque music can be played very well on modern instruments,’ says Pinnock ‘but with copies of old ones, the balance and blend achievable seems to be much more convincing – especially important when accompanying voices.’ It is also thought that by singing at the authentic pitch, the true vocal parts of Purcell’s music ‘fall perfectly into range’.

Marking the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth, Glyndebourne’s production of The Fairy Queen will open this Saturday (20 June) with 12 performances until 12 August. There will also be a concert performance as part of the BBC Proms on 21 July. The production is directed by Jonathan Kent and conducted by Baroque specialist, William Christie.  

For tickets to this rare and unbridged performance, visit www.glyndebourne.co.uk 


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