Cher Public

In Ring und Reih’ die Hall’ erfüllen die Helden

Our Own JJ has been thinking about Bayreuth some more, this time in the pages of Musical America.

  • Feldmarschallin

    Great article La Cieca. If you need a reasonably priced Pension contact me. No need to pay for something overpriced. Outside of Bayreuth 37€ and within walking distance of Festspielhaus 47€.

  • LittleMasterMiles

    Fascinating stuff. I’d love to hear more about the Bayreuth “experience”, both at the Festspielhaus and for the rest of the time. Are there surtitles? What to people do/eat/drink/talk about during the famously long intervals? Are there truly good restaurants in Bayreuth or just adequate ones? Is it strictly Bavarian cuisine or more cosmopolitan? Is everyone just in town for the Festival, or is the local populace conspicuous? Do you bump into the musicians at the local Kneipe? Any gay bars (or is that redundant at an opera festival)? Is there any nightlife after the performance ends (or on dark nights)?

    I should probably just start entering the lottery and find out for myself one of these years…

    • papopera

      I don’t know about gay bars in Bayreuth but if it hadn’t been for the gay king Ludwig II there would be no Festpielhaus.

    • Todd

      I didn’t want to answer in La Cieca’s stead, but since some time has gone by I’ll venture the following:
      * No surtitles, for many reasons (it would destroy the total darkness; expectation is that audiences know the pieces already; it would distract from the immersion)
      * People mainly talk about the production/performances during the intervals, or read the program book. They’re an hour each, which means everyone has time to pee, eat or drink something, take a stroll in the gardens, argue about the performance, etc., without being rushed.
      * Make sure to buy/bring a cushion or get to the Garderobe early enough to borrow one. The seat backs are torture.
      * As the house isn’t air conditioned, make sure to bring a handkerchief. Often the only motion you’ll sense in the famously still and silent house is people wiping their brow. Fanning can lead to censure by your neighbors.
      * You can get international fare--champagne, smoked salmon, etc.--but many people stick with bratwurst and beer during the intervals. And rightly so, as they are delicious. (Bayreuth is near Thüringen, which is considered to produce the best bratwurst in Germany.)
      * Similar things can be said about the town itself. Like anywhere in Germany there are good Italian options; there’s a nice French bistro; etc. But when in Franconia…
      * After the performance most people head to a restaurant for a light meal or just drinks, and of course talk about the performance. You can (and should) reserve a table, since pretty much the entire audience wants to do this. Especially if you’re going to walk back into town--the cab line is brutal--you want to know you actually will have a place to sit down.
      * You can indeed run into the musicians around town. They used to hang out at Die Eule, but I think have moved on to other locales. But yes, they’re there. I had a conversation once with Wolfgang Schmidt, who was walking his dog. Better conversationalist than singer.
      * There isn’t a lot to do in the town; an afternoon or two will suffice. As someone else has suggested, head to Bamberg or Nürnberg.
      * The city is gay friendly, but remember you’re ultimately in rural Bavaria, CDU territory. There are plenty of gay visitors to the festival, most of whom don’t self-segregate when it comes to bars and restaurants.

      • Trappedinoperahell

        There’s also a restaurant just down the steps from the Festpielhaus where you can sit down and eat during the intervals. Service is very good and they have the timing down perfectly. It’s pricey but very comfortable and air conditioned, and the food is good. It’s also a nice way to meet other festival-goers. But you need to reserve in advance.

        There’s also a very good souvenir kiosk just across from the box office. They have a nice selection of DVDs and CDs, some of them hard to find, plus photos, postcards, etc. It’s open all day during the festival.

        JJ’s article is beautifully written. He expresses something that is very difficult to put into words.

  • phoenix

    -- This article makes it sound like sort of an operatic Wagner Park -- ?????????? -- what in particular are you talking about? Or is it, perhaps, your own creative imagination made it that way for you. You are correct however about it not being gloomy -- it is not that important nor moving enough to be so.
    -- I enjoyed a few of the singers and some of the performances -- but not all of them.
    -- The really fun part of Bayreuth is the Swimming Park and Gym open from morning till sunset, where you can get away from the Wagner influence totally. If you are there for 10 or more days and the mystical magic of the Festspielhaus, Wahnfried, etc. is wearing off, give it a try. The whole town seems to enjoy it, too. Picnics, parties, games, etc.

  • Orlando Furioso

    JJ is right to spend a column focusing on this sort of thing. It’s very real, though hard to describe without sounding unbecomingly mystical (he did better than I have, when I’ve tried). It’s a logical though perhaps unplanned result of the architecture + acoustics + isolation. I only got there for one festival, now 25 years ago, but I’m very glad I made it that once.

  • lyrebird

    Believe me (well believe J J), it is impossibly difficult to get the experience down on paper and the way J J has penned the essentials of the days, the evenings, the theatre, the organism that is the audience, and then distilled the emotions simply but so beautifully -- goodness, I teared up. The risk is to try and repeat or expand on the article, but really the only thing worth repeating is reading it.

    I went last year for the first time, but now harbour a strange reluctance to return as if (hyperbole warning) you have indeed had an overwhelming mystical experience, and like the Face of God, the fear to return is too great, lest it not be the same. I suspect the opposite would be the case, but nonetheless, the feeling gives some hint of how mighty and moving the whole thing is.

    I did visit Bayreuth this year (on other half’s business) before the Festival and can assert there’s not much going out on, gay or otherwise, out of season. The best thing to have is a car, and head off to Bamberg, or Nürnberg, although as J J says, when it’s on, it’s on, and all consuming.

  • antikitschychick

    fabulous piece with very captivating & visceral details. OMG I can’t wait to visit Bayreuth next summer!!

    Oopsies I have to be up in 6 hrs. Fudgestickles. -_-.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    The question I have--which I probably won’t be able to answer for myself for another ten years unless I get lucky in the upcoming lottery--is this: Is the festival atmosphere of seeing the Ring cycle at Bayreuth different or more intense than it is when seeing it in another city and participating in its festival events?

    When I saw the SFO Ring cycle, I met people who had gone to many, many cycles, but I never thought to ask them that question. There was definitely a festival atmosphere, though. Again in Seattle this summer, I met people who had seen double digits of Rings, but I never asked them. The festival was full of events that kept the party going.

    I wonder if Bayreuth is the peak, or if the Ring is the peak. Each time.

    • derschatzgabber

      Hi DCF, it’s been 35 years since I made my hajj to Bayreuth, but JJ’s description of the experience matches my memories very well. I have seen multiple Ring productions in SF and Seattle. And some of them have been very good. But they weren’t anything like experiencing Wagner in the Festspielhaus. Is Bayreuth the peak? It depends on how you define “peak”. No matter what you may think of the particular regie concept of the production you attend, or the unevenness of a particular cast, there is something special about seeing a Wagner opera in that theater with the audience that attends the festival.

  • Buster

    JJ is a sensitive little bugger.

    I also felt different there. It reminded me of the Documenta -- same feeling, and same result, the concentration and the impressions were much larger there as well.

  • phoenix

    Interesting how everyone seems to have a similar reaction (all seem to be in accordance with the views of the author of this article) re: their Bayreuth visit -- sorry, I may the one exception, but in light of the entrepreneurial nature of the author, the article reads like paid advertisement for the Bayreuth Tourist Office.
    -- IMO the Bayreuth Wagner “experience” as well as the audiences at the Festspielhaus were dull. The people living in Bayreuth, on the other hand, seemed relaxed & enjoying themselves -- a lot more so than the crowd on the hill.
    -- I don’t really like European food so I ate very little during my 10-day stay at Bayreuth -- at that time there weren’t very many foreign restaurants in town. I did find a good café that stayed open late and served a delicious big platter of Bauernfrühstück every night after the opera.

    • Trappedinoperahell

      What’s interesting, Phoenix, is that nobody has tried to invalidate your version of the Bayreuth experience but you seem eager to invalidate everyone else’s.

      • phoenix

        I love your name -- ‘Trappedinoperahell’ -- but ‘invalidate’ ??????? My comment was not intended to invalidate anyone else’s “Bayreuth experience.
        -- I even apologized with a “sorry” for the fact that my Bayreuth experience was neither in accordance with the views expressed in the article nor with the expressed views of the other commenters -- but you seem to be intent on making it appear as if I was trying to invalidate other’s opinions.
        -- First of all, believe it or not, I really don’t give a damn about Bayreuth or what anyone else thinks about it on this site (or any other place) -- those are their thoughts, not mine -- furthermore, I fully realize that any individual’s subjective reaction to a personal experience cannot be INVALIDATEd by someone else’s idiosyncratic counter-reaction to the same experience. The opinions expressed may be entirely different, but since they emanate from completely different source perceptions, there is no way they can INVALIDATE each other. If you think I was trying to do so, perhaps you should remain Trappedinboperahell for awhile longer until you come to your senses.

  • Trappedinoperahell

    Perhaps, then, you should learn to write in such a way that you convey your actual thoughts.