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Bayreuth Festival Tickets: Make more available - or else?

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 | 4:23:00 am

This is a fascinating article from the Economist. Of course we are all aware of the "peculiarities" - and shear difficulties -  of getting a ticket to performances at the home of Herr Wagner and clan. And who hasn't felt sympathies for those poor devils holding-up a sign like that pictured below:

For years of course we have been told that this is because the festival is just so over-subscribed, with to many people chasing to few tickets. While this might be true, this article suggests the reason there are so few tickets available may not only be for the factors that we would assume (Only 16 percent of tickets sold to the public for premiers! 40 percent for everything else?). However, it seems that the Wagners maybe forced to make changes. Never under-estimate the power of the "bean-counter" - or $7.2 million public funding for that matter.

FRUSTRATED Wagner fans may see some good cheer approaching from a strange quarter. It is notoriously difficult to get tickets for the annual Bayreuth Festival in Germany, which runs through the entire canon of Richard Wagner’s operas: the average waiting time for a seat is nine years, if you stick out persistent disappointment in the yearly ballot.

But things may change. On June 15th bean-counters at the Bundesrechnungshof, the federal audit office, recommended to parliament that the festival, which gets more than €5m ($7.2m) a year of public money, should change the way it allocates tickets. Only 40% are sold directly to the public; a mere 16% if it is a premiere. Ill-explained “quotas” take care of the rest: the Society of Friends of Bayreuth gets 23% for its members. Around 30% go to travel agents, who wrap them into hugely expensive tours, or to corporate sponsors, for entertaining those they want to impress. The Federation of German Trades Unions has one closed performance for its own big night out (at a reduced rate); until 2009 it had two. The city of Bayreuth gets an allocation to lavish on regional and other guests. Chancellor Angela Merkel and spouse are regular visitors, though their tickets may not be free.

Some are, however. Although ticket sales cover less than half the running costs, the Bayreuth Festival gives away 2,650 tickets a year to students, its own staff, artists, journalists, and “special cases”. That reduces even further the tickets available to Joe Public.

Hardened Bayreuth-goers do find ways to beat the system. They have a friend, perhaps a theatre producer, who gets a special allocation. They pay through the nose for a hotel package which includes a performance. They join the Friends of Bayreuth, which costs €200-odd a year but doesn’t always guarantee a ticket. Or they go to the rehearsals before the festival proper. One lady, who had done this all her life, wrote a letter begging for a ticket so that she could see the real thing before she died. Her wish was granted.

According to the audit office’s report, assigning tickets is largely handled by five women, some of whom have done the job for more than 20 years. The best way to get around them, suggests a helpful website, is to join a Wagner society outside Europe, or even better start one.