Bayreuth Festspielhaus

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Bayreuth Festspielhaus
Bayreuth Festspielhaus

[ source: Wikipedia]

The name of the small Bavarian town Bayreuth (Bayreuth vacation rentals | Bayreuth travel guide) immediately conjures up one famous association - Richard Wagner. Here the famous German composer finally found success in the construction of his unique opera house, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. The design of the theater is connected to an unrealized design by Gottfried Semper for an opera house in Munich. Somehow, Wagner obtained the plans and, without the architect's permission, used them as the basis for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the construction of which Wagner personally supervised. Initially Wagner sought to raise money for the theater by touring extensively and putting on concerts around Europe. Eventually, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who became huge fan of Wagner's operas, became a major funder for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

The Festpielhaus was conceived by Wagner as a way to establish financial stability and independence, two things that had long eluded him. He envisioned the theater becoming the home of a music festival featuring his works. Wagner selected Bayreuth because the town fell outside of the area in which he had sold the rights to his works in order to pay his creditors and because the town had no other cultural events that could compete with his efforts and ambitions.

The foundation stone for the Bayreuth Festspielhaus was set on Wagner's birthday (May 22) in 1872. After a prolonged construction period, the theater was opened in August 1876 for the premiere of Wagner's 4-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Although not a financial success, the first Bayreuth festival attracted an array of prominent visitors, including Kaiser Wilhelm, King Ludwig II, Dom Pedro II of Brazil, Friedrich Nietzsche, Anton Bruckner, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Edvard Grieg, and Franz Liszt.

To date, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is the largest freestanding timber structure ever built. The extensive use of wood on the interior is supposedly one major reason for the building's excellent acoustics. Instead of the more typical theater seating with a horseshoe- shaped arrangement and galleries and boxes on the sides, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus's seating is arranged as one steeply-pitched wedge, similar to what is now used in modern movie theaters. Amazingly ambitious for the time, the theater has a seating capacity for 1,925 people. One unique feature of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is the orchestra pit, which is under the stage and covered by a hood, making the orchestra totally invisible to the audience. This was of primary importance to Wagner, who wanted the audience to focus on the opera on the stage and not on the conductor and musicians in the pit.

Only Wagner's operas have ever been performed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. During the Bayreuth Festival every summer, an array of Wagner's operas are presented. There is even a "Richard Wagner for Children" program, which presents age-appropriate adaptations of various Wagner operas, such as Der Meistersinger von Nuernberg.

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About this Article

Rachel Hildebrandt

This travel guide has been written by Rachel Hildebrandt.

Starting with her first trip to Germany at the age of 16, Rachel has traveled, worked, and studied in Germany extensively. Although her first encounter with German culture was in Lower Saxony, since that time the focus of her subsequent work as a freelance historian and translator has shifted eastward. Building on her graduate studies in Dresden, Rachel has worked for a variety of German foundations as a historian and translator, and is currently pursuing research pertaining to the Sorbs in Lusatia (eastern Saxony).

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