“Children, create something new!” composer Richard Wagner famously said at the opening of the first-ever Bayreuth Festival in 1876.
While there is no new production at this year’s festival, the 98th edition, which opened on Saturday and runs until August 28, Wagner’s great-granddaughters, Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, have come up with a brainchild to make Wagner’s music accessible to a wider and younger audience.
Entitled “Wagner for Kids”, the series is part of the new-look Bayreuth under Eva’s and Katharina’s leadership.
Just three-and-a-half hours before the curtain went up on the world’s oldest and most prestigious summer music festival on Saturday, six-to-10 year olds were treated to their own performance of Wagner’s first mature opera, The Flying Dutchman, in a version made palatable for kids.
The excitement was tangible as around 200 children, and their parents, waited for entry to the premiere on a rehearsal stage next to the Festspielhaus theatre, the opera house built to Wagner’s own designs.
Tickets for all 10 performances were sold out within hours of them going on sale: the children get in for free, while accompanying adults must pay 20 euros.
Author Alexander Busche, director Alvaro Schoeck and conductor Christoph Ulrich Meier have managed to cut The Flying Dutchman, which normally runs for two-and-a-half hours, down to 63 minutes.
And the orchestra has been reduced from about 150 musicians to 19.
An old steersman acts as a narrator, re-telling the story of the Dutch ship captain in search of redemption via a woman’s love.
The costumes of the different characters were designed by the children themselves in a competition launched in schools all over Germany in January.
The project was enthusiastically received by the young audience, and was their first-ever encounter with opera and classical music.
“I really liked it, everything about it. It was great fun,” said 12-year-old Andreas. “The sets were good and you could really follow what was going on.”
Timo, seven, said he particularly liked the sailors’ chorus, while Markus, eight, said he enjoyed the music.
Katharina Wagner, 31, said the aim was to make the series a permanent fixture on Bayreuth’s Green Hill.
The swashbuckling story of The Flying Dutchman means the opera lends itself more easily to a children-friendly version. But that could prove more difficult with Wagner’s later and more complex works such as Tristan and Isolde or Parsifal, Wagner conceded.