Thursday, October 13, 2011


In the aftermath of World War II Wagner's home, Wahnfried , lay partially in ruins from allied bombing . Winifred Wagner, wife of the dead Siegfried (Wagner's only son) through her war time connection with Hitler was forbidden from running the festival. The Bayreuth Festival had been co-opted by German wartime politics and Hitler's enthusiastic support ; thoughts ranged from divesting the family to dismantling the whole affair. Enter a compromise and a revolution. The mother was out and the two young brothers Wieland (1917-1966) and Wolfgang (1919-2010 ) were to run it jointly . This was the compromise . What no one expected in 1951 after repairs and fundraising was nothing less than a dramaturgical revolution - New Bayreuth.

Everything the old Bayreuth had known: insularity , nationalism , naturalistic sets , " duck hats " and bear skins , it was all gone. The clutter and darkness were banished - everything was now space and light . Tunic like dress, echoing the 'classical theater ' of Greece and Rome hung loosely from the characters bodies. The set was no longer time bound or nationally oriented - an international style that could be anywhere and anytime or the famous Wagnerian "mythic and outside of time ". Open ended and beyond the politics of the past - the break had been made and a New Bayreuth was born rising from the ashes of war . It had been a vision fourteen years in the making . Wieland had begun thinking this way in 1937 and by 1951 the 'new vision' could be unveiled. Psychology and symbol had replaced verisimilitude; openness had replaced enclosure , inference and ambiguity both filled (and emptied) the stage with light and space.

It was a vision that attracted the greatest performers, singers , designers and conductors. A series of recordings followed that testify to this extraordinary period of music making . Among them this Saturday Afternoon at the Opera's presentation of Wagner's Gotterdammerung of 1951, Live . A cast that mixed the old, Ludwig Weber( as Hagen) with the new Astrid Varnay (as Brunnhilde) and the great Knappertsbusch , who Furtwangler affectionately called ' Mein liebe Kna' ", and who had been personally excoriated by Hitler and Goebbels - there can be no better recommendation.

Join us this Saturday at noon for a little bit of Valhalla, here on KPAC and KTXI.

host, Ron Moore

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