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Scandals in Bayreuth: A brief history of cancelations at the Wagner Festival

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday 11 July 2016 | 8:20:00 pm

It was a last-minute upset, but not unusual for the Bayreuth Festival. Conductor Andris Nelsons called off his opening night performance and will be replaced by Hartmut Haenchen. Here's a history of Bayreuth drop-outs.

The 73-year-old German conductor Hartmut Haenchen was greeted by Bayreuth Festival director Katharina Wagner in a statement released Tuesday (05.07.2016), "I'm very grateful to Maestro Haenchen for declaring his readiness to take over conducting responsibilities for the new production on short notice and am looking forward to his first participation at the Bayreuth Festival."

That production is of Richard Wagner's last work, "Parsifal," written specifically for the "Festspielhaus," his self-designed festival theater, and normally requiring close knowledge of the specific performance conditions there. Haenchen will be joining a team that has been rehearsing since early June: orchestra, chorus, soloists and the stage director Uwe Eric Laufenberg. The team was traumatized when the announcement came on June 30 that star conductor Andris Nelsons had thrown in the towel.

Owing to a differing approach in various matters," Nelsons had requested a termination of contract. The choice of words was so vague that it's occupied the arts world for the past week.

Had he been miffed by unsolicited advice from the festival's music director, Christian Thielemann? Were there differences with the festival management over casting issues? Was the young maestro, described as a warm and outgoing, but also sensitive and somewhat private person, disturbed by the intense security measures recently introduced at the Festspielhaus? Or was Nelsons uncomfortable with Laufenberg's production, in which Wagner's "Parsifal" is set in the context of religions?

All possible explanations were denied, and both the festival and the conductor have adhered to their pledge to keep silent on the issue.

A rich tradition of Bayreuth cancelations

1999: Willy Decker: The experienced German opera director had been commissioned to direct Wagner's "Lohengrin" but backed down just months before, citing "artistic reasons." It was the first time that a designated Bayreuth stage director had stepped down. British director Keith Warner was hired in his place - and delivered a solid rendition of the opera.

2000: Hans Sotin: The famous German baritone had sung every Wagnerian role for the bass voice in Bayreuth - in every season without interruption since 1972. Then, just days before the premiere of "Parsifal," Sotin left the "Green Hill" in a huff, citing "irreconcilable differences" with conductor Christoph Eschenbach. Another baritone was found - and in the following year, another conductor.

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