What do you do about a problem like Bayreuth?
It's Ring season, though I've been listening to a lot of Schubert, and there are all manner of reviews of the new production. Tankred Dorst's somewhat confusing production (I'll admit, I didn't get it or - from the pictures - have much of an idea what was happening) got me to thinking, as they say around these parts.
The Bayreuther Festspiele, unlike all the other European summer festivals, created in haste to follow Wagner's lead, has a clear mission statement. You'll have to leave the Festspielhaus grounds to get performances of other composers. As it should be, and as Wagner wanted. However, one gets the sense that the Festspiele is gradually yielding to the artistic trends of Europe. If you read Charles Dudley Warner's illuminating account of the 1882 Festspiele (specifically, the premiere of Parsifal), then you get the sense that the Festspiele should be above and beyond the usual, messy artistic fray. Why else, then, would you go to Bayreuth? (Surely the B.F.E., if you'll pardon the infelicity, of Bavaria - if not Germany. And I've been to Oberammergau. I know it gives stiff competition on that front.)
My question is this: for one season, why don't we try doing everything as Wagner wanted? Let's roll the clock back to 1882, the last Festspiele that he would have personally overseen, and play the music as he wanted it played and stage the operas as he wanted them staged? Just for one year, let's pretend that Wagner were still in charge. And let's see what happens. I warrant, though I wouldn't want to be held to this, that there would be less controversy over Wagner and more attention paid to his music and his message.
And that can't be a bad thing. Can it?