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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Bayreuth isn't safe with the Wagner sisters

By Norman Lebrecht / April 16, 2008

The deal that has been done this week to save Bayreuth for the Wagners is as dubious as any that has been solemnised in that black hole since Adolf Hitler dined at its table. After 42 years of absolute power, the barnacle-like Wolfgang Wagner, grandson of the great composer, has written to festival backers agreeing to yield control to two of his daughters, one from each marriage, in order to secure the family’s hegemony.

Wolfgang, 88, had wanted to hand over to 29 year-old Katharina, whose inexperience has been manifest in a series of Eurotrash productions. He had also sworn to exclude the 63 year-old Eva, who acquired slick political if not production skills during stints at Covent Garden and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Eva secured the support of the Wagner Foundation, which nominally governs the Festival. It began making threats to withhold funds if Papa did not step down. Wolfgang finally came to terms with a split deal on the understanding that his younger child would, sooner or later, scoop the whole pot of Rhine gold.

The half-sisters, who have never disguised their mutual disaffection, have now ‘established that, under certain conditions, they could imagine working together,’ according to a spokesman for the Bayreuth Festival where irony is strictly verboten. The deal has been greeted with relief across the German musical establishment, but anyone naïve enough to think this means the onset of happy hour in Valhalla should read Jonathan Carr’s history, The Wagner Clan (Faber, £20), which demonstrates how sibling hatred seeps from one generation to the next, turning Bayreuth into a cesspit of human pettiness and, at one point, a private concentration camp.

The only way to redeem the Wagner shrine from its appalling past is to remove the Wagners from its management. They are the last unconstitutional monarchy on the European continent and their festival is among the last enclaves of encrusted privilege to receive public funds, a regressive spa for the super-rich. It will take more than a pair of squabbling sisters to refresh that scenario.

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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