Richard Wagner wanted this theatre to be built for one performance only - his Der Ring des Nibelungen opera of human transformation which would be shown over four nights, after which the building was to be demolished to the ground.
The theatre opened its doors to the public on 13 August 1876 with Das Rheingold, the first part of Wagner's tetralogy. And yet the first ever performance of the complete Ring cycle was not followed by sweeping the structure off the face of the earth, the way the great composer had envisioned it; it was abandoned for six whole years, however, as there was not enough money to keep it operating. The theatre reopened for the next Bayreuth Festival with a performance of Parsifal, Richard Wagner's valedictory opera.
With its unique conditions of listening and watching, the Green Hill (Grüner Hügel) theatre, originally supported and funded by Ludwig II of Bavaria, hosts exclusively performances of Richard Wagner's operas; it is for his own works that the composer created the most beneficial conditions: an ascetic auditorium in the shape of the ancient amphitheatre, free of any superfluous opulence and without boxes which would only serve as a platform for people who wanted to show off. The orchestra pit is located under the stage so that neither the conductor nor the musicians can be seen: the music flows towards the audience invisible from the darkness where it is brought forth as a result of a complex process of coming about. Released by the instruments, sound hits the built-in wood cover of the orchestra pit ceiling to rebound and mixed with the voices of other instruments emerge to the stage where it encounters the singers' voices and moves on to the auditorium filled with wooden chairs - to meet the listeners. This particular opera stage design which guarantees a very unusual way of mixing the sound is unique to Bayreuth Festspielhaus; for many music-lovers it is the destination of a very special, almost pilgrimage-like journey. Crowning the Green Hill, Richard Wagner's Festspielhaus is visible from the valley as you approach the city.
The time when the organisers of Bayreuther Festspiele were only interested in the musical qualities of the production - and was deservedly labelled by the critics 'a moth-ridden relic' - now belongs to the past. The final years of life and tenure of the legendary Festspiele director Wolfgang Wagner already saw radical transformations of the festival's face: the list of luminaries invited to stage Wagner's operas at Bayreuth included the likes of the German action artist, stage and screen director Christoph Schlingensief, the great Swiss director Christoph Marthaler and the Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier. The latter, however, was forced to give up his plan of staging Der Ring des Nibelungen on Green Hill due to health problems.
Wolfgang Wagner's successors, his daughters Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, seem determined to carry on the trend started by their father, developing Bayreuth as a platform for ambitious director's theatre.
Admittedly, from Wagner's dream of a democratic celebration of music the Bayreuth Festival has transformed into its complete opposite: an elitist event open to a limited number of chosen ones - no tickets to performances are ever available. The waiting time may have slightly reduced - it is no longer ten years - and yet a mere mortal has to wait for years to get admission to a Bayreuth festival performance in the most straightforward of ways: by purchasing a ticket in a box office. You can try a more daring route, however, by showing up on the performance night and waiting at the entrance holding a piece of cardboard that says 'Suche 1 Karte'. After all, there is always someone who cannot attend an event to which a much coveted ticket has been procured - even if it is Bayreuther Festspiele we are talking about.
Keywords: Opera House, Bayreuth