This year, the prestigious Bayreuth Festival in Germany, the world’s oldest and most famous summer music festival, is finally set to enter the 21st century with its first-ever live webcast.
Other leading opera houses, such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York and La Scala in Milan, have regularly offered high-definition theatre casts in the past.
And Bayreuth performances, too, have been broadcast live on radio for decades from the festival, which begins on Friday.
But Bayreuth’s first-ever live webcast will give Wagner fans the visuals as well, plus a chance to see inside the German city’s legendary “Festspielhaus”, the theatre built to Richard Wagner’s own designs and normally open only to those who have dutifully waited 10 years or more for their tickets.
The webcast will take place on July 27 and will be a performance of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg in the controversial new production by Wagner’s 30-year-old great-granddaughter, Katharina.
It will be the first video recording of a Bayreuth performance since 1991, and the first ever in front of a live audience.
It appears to be part of a conscious drive on the part of the festival to open itself up to new audiences.
The webcast coincides with another first for Bayreuth this year: the erection of a so-called “fan mile” — familiar from major soccer championships — on the town’s main square where people will be able to watch the same Meistersinger performance on a huge screen live and for free.
Similar “opera for everyone” events have proved extremely popular at Munich’s prestigious and top-priced summer opera festival down the road.
But Bayreuth would not be Bayreuth if it did not seek to retain some air of exclusivity.
Webcast tickets are limited to 10 000, and at €49 each, they are pricier than what the Met and La Scala charge.
As an added bonus, webcast ticket-holders can watch the performance one more time until August 2. During the hour-long intervals between the acts, they also get exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpses backstage.
Actual tickets to the Bayreuth Festival, which takes place every year from July 25 to August 28, are the most elusive in the musical world, with the waiting list to get in 10 years and longer.
That has led to the emergence of a lively black market and tickets have been hot items on internet auction sites for a number of years now.
This year is no different. A week before the curtain rises on the festival’s 97th edition, a pair of tickets for a performance of the massive four-opera Ring had already received bids as high as €1 296 on eBay, nearly 10 times their face value.
Every year, organisers issue a stern warning against buying tickets on the black market. Last year, they even threatened to turn away ticket holders who have bought their tickets from sources other than the festival office itself or its approved agents.
In theory, ticket holders are required to carry a piece of photo ID with them when entering the theatre, even if that rule is rarely applied.
Would-be visitors to Bayreuth must apply in writing each year for a ticket by filling out a form sent to them in the post in September.
Applications must be submitted by mid-October. You must apply no matter how small your chances of getting in. Miss a year and you will get sent to the back of the queue.
The lucky few who are allocated a ticket are notified in December. Rejections arrive in January.
The festival regularly receives applications for as many as 370 000 tickets from more than 80 different countries. But only about 54 000 tickets are on sale for the 30 performances during the month-long run.
Tactics can help shorten your waiting time. You will wait the longest if you apply for performances during the so-called “premiere week”, the first gala week of the festival. But if you apply for an opera that is nearing the end of its run, you have more of a chance.
You can also join the society of friends of the festival, which has a large contingent of tickets. But you’ll have to pay an annual membership fee and, with the number of members growing each year, the waiting list here is also growing longer.
The most die-hard hopefuls simply turn up on the day of the performance, wielding a “Suche Karte [Ticket wanted]” sign. — Sapa-AFP
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