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It's official. Wolfgang Wagner is stepping down as Festspielleiter on 31 August 2008, and his daughters Katharina and Eva Wagner-Pasquier are the front runners to get nod from the Wagner-Stiftung to take up the reins.
Everyone knows that, and I've been busy with finals and pre-graduation business. I haven't given the matter much thought, other than this is a bad idea.
Katharina's Meistersinger is not the beginning of a new era in the same way that Wieland's "Meistersinger ohne Nürnberg" was. Indeed, having seen some of the pictures and read the reviews, it seems to me that the Wagner-Stiftung would be better served getting Patrice Chéreau, Harry Kupfer, or Robert Wilson to head up the Festspiele. At least they're good at the Regietheater style. Katharina's production, as best as I could tell, was not that great. It seemed to me from what I saw that she was making "Important Statements" rather than articulating a Konzept. Regardless of what one thinks about Regietheater or Brechtian dramatic theory (I have theater-major friends), "Important Statement" theater smacks of trying too hard, and it lends itself to a sort of disjointed, schizophrenic approach to a score.
If the Neu Bayreuth of the 21st century is "Important Statement"-based, then the point of the Bayreuther Festspiele is lost. The acoustic is not, in the final accounting, sufficient to warrant years of waiting, expensive tickets, an expensive trip to Bayreuth, and a week in likely stifling heat. The best singers will show up in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Vienna, Berlin, or any of a whole host of great cities. There are a few excellent conductors of Wagner's works. There are several really good Wagner bands.
The point is this: If Katharina's Meistersinger is the harbinger of things to come, then Bayreuth's day is done. Productions verging on the insipid diverge so wildly from Wagner's Konzept - which should matter more than it seems to these days - cannot be redeemed by a great acoustic, solid singing (though, even that is occasionally in doubt), and variable conductors.
Eva Wagner-Pasquier is a solid administrator and designer, though she isn't going to win any prizes for theoretical and literal fidelity to the Ur-Konzept, and one can hope that she'll moderate the wackiness on the Green Hill.