The Wagner Sisters talk: Or why you wouldn't go to see Tannhauser if it wasn't full of (bio) gas

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 3 September 2012 | 10:41:00 pm

The Wagners - they admit they don't meet up that often.
"When shall we two meet again?  In thunder, lightening or in rain?"
Edit: Link fixed - blame the new computer!

Members of the Music Critics Association of North America recently had the opportunity to talk  to the Wagner sisters in Bayreuth - not that a frequent event one must admit. As followers of the activities at Bayreuth will be aware it was unlikely to be the longest of audiences. However, James Bash manged to make some notes and repeats an nevertheless intriguing account below. Want to know why it is you go to see productions at Bayreuth? Why the Chéreau Ring is no longer "that strong"? Why Bayreuth is an "example for the world in the interpretation" of Wagner opera productions? If so then read on, and then follow the link at the bottom for the full article.

Wagner sisters talk about their work at Bayreuth - James Bash

Last week, I joined eleven of my colleagues from the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA) in Bayreuth, Germany, where we experienced five operas (Die Fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser, and Parsifal) in five days (August 18 – 23). We had been told that we might be able to meet and interview the Wagner sisters, Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, who run the Bayreuth Festival. Both women are daughters of Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010), who ran the Festival for many years. Wolfgang Wagner was the grandson of Richard Wagner, and the great-grandson of Franz Liszt.

Wagner-Pasquier (age 67) is the daughter of Wolfgang Wagner through his first marriage (to Ellen Drexel). Katharina Wagner (age 34) is the daughter of Wolfgang through his second marriage (to Gudrun Mack). According to press reports, both women vied to become the director of the Festival after their father died in 2008, and there was a fair amount of contention in the matter until a compromise was struck in 2010 in which they were named as co-directors.

Although my colleagues and I had hoped to talk with the Wagner sisters after one of our morning lectures, we had to settle an undesignated amount of time during the second intermission of Parsifal (August 23). Since each intermission is an hour, we had high hopes that we would be able to get into a long conversation with them, but after a quick round of handshakes, alas, our conversation lasted only nine minutes.

Both women spoke in English, but it was pretty rough at times. I have inserted a few words in parenthesis in order to help make their thoughts a little clearer.

William Littler: How do you see the Festival developing from the Wolfgang Wagner years into your years?

Katharina Wagner: From the artistic point of view, there’s not much difference. Our father took Chéreau, Schlingensief, Heiner Müller… this was very exciting. From that point of view, we just do the same. We are trying to get an interesting interpretation(s) here, and that was what our father tried to do.

But, of course, now when you see a Chéreau Ring, from the point of view of now, it is not that strong – as it was (when it was first produced). When you see something now like Tannhäuser, it seems to be stronger, but it isn’t in reality, because you have to compare the times. It is more or less the same.

William Littler: So you see yourselves as continuing a tradition rather than establishing a new one.

Eva Wagner-Pasquier: What is a new tradition?

William Littler: When I look at the five productions we’ve seen, I think that you can’t get much newer than this.

Eva Wagner-Pasquier: Yes, but we should be an example for the world in the interpretation. Of course, tradition is very good, but a new tradition is always to be a little bit further than other places. It’s always that way (since) 1951.