cover image Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival

Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival

Frederic Spotts. Yale University Press, $65 (344pp) ISBN 978-0-300-05777-5

Stressing that ``Bayreuth demands seriousness'' of attendees--the author himself has attended every year since 1955--Spotts, who had the cooperation of the Richard Wagner-Gedenkstatte at Bayreuth, here presents a study of due seriousness, a knowing, engrossing, opinionated overview of the shrine that Wagner established to himself in 1876. The material on the founding of the Festival, and on Cosima Wagner's management of Bayreuth from 1883--following her husband Richard's death--to 1906 is familiar, although no less involving for that, as is the contemporary information. But Spotts's research into the Nazification of the Festival and the Winifred Wagner-Hitler friendship makes this a seminal study for a new generation. Because, as the author notes, Wagnerian opera was perceived among Germans as an extension of nationalism, the composer became Messiah and Bayreuth the last bulwark of true German values. Spotts reviews Winifred Wagner's administration of the Festival after the death in 1930 of her husband Siegfried (Cosima died that year as well), the composer's son, who, in 1915 at age 45, married the 17-year-old German-bred British orphan out of fear that his homosexuality would be exposed. Hitler and his devoted Winifred kept Bayreuth functioning throughout WW II, with the Fuhrer underwriting expenses for his War Festivals; annually he rewarded up to 30,000 of his troops and war workers with free attendance to Bayreuth. Spotts, a former member of the American Foreign Service, also tracks the uncertain fate of Bayreuth under the Allies, until the Festival reverted to the Wagner family in 1950, dual control passing to Winifred and Siegfried's sons Wieland and Wolfgang. It took Wieland's genius to de-Nazify Bayreuth and make it a vital Festival, shows Spotts, who is critical of Wolfgang's management after his brother's death in 1966. If Bayreuth is, as the author argues, a simulacrum of the German nation, it is no less so for devotees of Wagner. The Nazi connection is known at least in outline to younger Wagnerites but is little discussed. Spotts does the music world a service by confronting that legacy. Photos not seen by PW . (June)