- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008

BAYREUTH, Wolfgang Wagner, the 88-year-old grandson of composer Richard Wagner, welcomed guests to his last Bayreuth Festival on Friday, walking on the arm of his youngest daughter, Katharina - a leading contender to replace him after a 57-year reign and a prolonged struggle over his successor.

Mr. Wagner briefly greeted bystanders along with his 30-year-old daughter outside the Festspielhaus before the opening of the annual celebration. The audience for “Parsifal,” the composer’s last major work, included Joachim Sauer - regular Bayreuth visitors.

Wieland Wagner took charge of it in 1951.

After Wieland’s death, Wolfgang became the sole director in 1967. He announced in April that he would quit the director’s post at the end of August. He previously had indicated that he would like to see Katharina replace him but noted a co-leadership with her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 63, also was possible. The two daughters have handed in a proposal for a joint directorship.

An official decision on who will take over the festival is not expected until after this year’s event ends on Aug. 28. The festival board of directors is set to meet on Sept. 1.

Speculation swirled following the death in November of Wolfgang Wagner’s second wife and longtime assistant, Gudrun, that he would step aside - ending a long-running struggle that generated drama worthy of the opera.

In 2001, the festival’s board of directors, which includes federal, Bavarian state government and Bayreuth city officials, tried to force Mr. Wagner to step down by naming Miss Wagner-Pasquier to take over. He refused to leave, arguing that his lifetime contract gave him control over the opera house where the festival is staged each summer.

He also rejected his niece, Nike Wagner, 63, saying she was unsuitable for the job.

Katharina Wagner, who is seen by some as too young to lead the festival on her own, is staging “Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg” at this year’s festival.

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Agence France-Presse reported that this year’s production of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” on Saturday night “certainly puts the ‘tisite’ back into ‘Tristan’” in the six-hour saga.

“There’s no overwhelming passion or no electrifying eroticism. The stage, by Anna Viebrock, is all drab browns and yellows typical of the former communist East Germany,” he said. “The star-crossed lovers never kiss, in fact barely touch throughout the six-hour evening, and the climax of their passionate nighttime rendezvous in Act II is when Isolde unbuttons her nylon blouse and Tristan loosens his tie.

“The cuckolded monarch’s helpless response to the discovery of the illicit love affair of the two main protagonists is simply to re-button [his wife] Isolde’s blouse. There’s no jealous passion or wounded pride. There’s only emotional paralysis on all sides.”

Mr. Morgan said the “secondary characters mill vacantly around, locked away in their own worlds, staring near-autistically at bare walls.”

“For (producer Christoph) Marthaler, the love between Tristan and Isolde is characterised by their sheer inability to communicate on any real level. It’s a frighteningly cold and barren world, with none of the protagonists able to express their emotions.

“Isolde, like some simple-minded child, seems more fascinated by flickering neon light bulbs on the ceiling far above than by her relationship to Tristan and her bridegroom, King Marke, Mr. Morgan says. “The magic potion that the two eponymous heroes drink at the end of Act I seems to have been more a sleeping potion than a love potion, and Tristan and Isolde remain somnambulists in what should be one of the most passionate love stories.

“Indeed, with conducting as soporific as that by German kapellmeister Peter Schneider on Saturday night, it’s not only the audience that has trouble staying awake. King Marke, betrayed by his favourite knight-hero Tristan for Isolde’s love, seems to nod off, too, towards the end of Act II. ”

The festival continued Sunday with “The Mastersingers of Nuremberg” in a staging that was booed roundly by audiences and sharply divided critics when it was premiered last year.

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