Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Back from Bayreuth – The Experience of a Lifetime (Part 1)

We’re back from Bayreuth and the experience of a lifetime.  “How was your vacation?” friends ask, to which I reply, “It was more of a pilgrimage than a vacation.”  And like all good pilgrimages, there were some rough spots along the way.  More about that later. 

For the Wagner fanatic, seeing Der Ring des Nibelungen (“The Ring of the Niebelung”) in the opera house Wagner built for his monumental work is a dream come true.  Wagner’s music does not appeal to all opera lovers, including many of my friends.  It is less accessible than the music of Italian and French operas, which were my first loves.  My opera singer mother hated Wagner’s music so much that she would not allow it in the house.  Listening to the Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts from the Met was a tradition in our home, except on those Saturdays when the opera was by Wagner.  On those Saturdays, the radio was silent.  So, naturally, Wagner became a guilty pleasure for my brother and me, like sneaking cigarettes, which we also did. 

It was Richard Wagner’s wife, Cosima, who suggested they take a look at this lovely little town as a potential site for her husband’s opera house. 

So, in 1871 the couple took a trip to Bayreuth and fell in love with it, and the town in turn fell in love with Wagner. 

Festspielhaus – a drawing circa 1895

The Town Council gave him a large plot of land, known as the “Green Hill,” to build his opera house, the Festspielhaus (“Festival Theater”).  It took five long years of financial and artistic setbacks to complete the project.  When it was finished, Wagner said to Cosima: "Each stone is red with my blood and yours".

Photo of Wahnfried by Lothar Spurzem

Not far from the Festspielhaus, the Wagners had a grand home built for themselves, Wahnfried.  Cosima, who would outlive her husband by 47 years, spent the rest of her life there, from which she ruled the Festival with an iron hand.  When illness and old age made it impossible for her to continue her controversial reign over the Festival, her son, Siegfried, took over.  The Festspielhaus has been under the direction of a Wagner descendant ever since. 

I took this picture of Wagner’s piano on which he composed all his music.  It gave me a thrill just to be in the same room with it.  Wherever he went, that piano went with him, and he moved frequently, usually to escape creditors.  He and Cosima are buried in the garden beyond the window.  

They were in Venice when Wagner died, and his son, Siegfried, said that the day of his father’s death his mother sat down at his piano and played a composition by her father, Franz Liszt.  It was the first time he had ever heard her play. 

Bayreuth’s love affair with Wagner is still very much in evidence.  You can hardly go anywhere without seeing him. 

Here he is at the restaurant in our hotel.  The restaurant is called Richard’s Bar and Restaurant.  We immediately dubbed it “Rick’s Place.”  Everyone goes to Rick’s Place…..after the opera. 

Walk along any street and you will run into him.  Just follow the “W’s” painted on the cobblestoned streets for Wagner’s Walks. 

Not only did he write some of the greatest music ever composed, build an impressive opera house and open his own restaurant (Rick’s Place), but he also found time to sell a line of expensive perfume on the side.  Talk about a multi-tasker!!! 

Wagner and music are everywhere in Bayreuth during festival season. 

Just look at the window of this little tea shop where they have fashioned musical notes out of tea leaves.  How charming and clever! 

Also everywhere during festival season are the opera goers who fill the quaint hotels and restaurants.  Katrin, one of the many delightful waitresses who served us, told us how to spot a tourist during festival season.  “They’re the ones wandering around in tuxedos and evening gowns.”  A far cry from the T shirt and fanny pack crowd. 

In Part 2 I’ll talk just a little bit about the operas (not too much – don’t panic), introduce you to some of the lovely people we met and share some pictures of what I wore.  


See Also:

Back from Bayreuth - The Experience of a Lifetime (Part 2)

Back from Bayreuth - The Experience of a Lifetime Part 3)

Getting Ready for Bayreuth

The Hunt for the Perfect Special Occasion Shoe


  1. I confess to not knowing much about Wagner's life. I had no idea his wife was the daughter of another famous composer. She would definitely know the life. I adore the tea sets! Looking forward to hearing and seeing the rest of your adventure!

    Welcome back,

    1. It's always good to be back home, even when the trip was amazing. Wagner's life is fascinating, even apart from his being one of the greatest musical geniuses that ever lived, and his wife, Cosima, was the keeper of the Wagner flame during and after his life. She was devoted to him heart and soul, even though he was continuously unfaithful. She was used to philandering men. She was the notorious Franz Liszt's illegitimate daughter. He admired Wagner's work very much, and it was mutual.

      Thanks for stopping by, Debra.

      Cheers, M-T

  2. Welcome back MT - Glad you had such a marvelous time in Bayreuth - Thanks for the detailed post - Looking forward to part 2. - With best wishes ~ Rose

    1. Nice to be home again, Rose. It was not a sit-on-the-beach-and-relax kind of vacation. It was work -- hard work -- and all worth it.

      Will fill you in a bit more in Part 2.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

  3. I can just imagine what a thrill it must have been to be there, and I envy your entire experience. Can't wait to hear about the Opera House and what you thoughts were on the "Ring", how it was staged, and the entire performance . You can share as much as you wish, as far as I am concerned, as I have never seen a Wagner opera live, just recordings or tapes.

    1. It was, indeed, the thrill of a lifetime for both of us. I will be getting into more detail on the Opera House and the "Ring" in Part 2. Listening to that orchestra play that incredible music in the house that Wagner built can only be described as "magical."

      Thanks for stopping by, Cynthia.

      Cheers, M-T

  4. Such a wonderful experience. It is high on our bucket list. My husband even declined watching The Ring here in Melbourne when it was here last year because he wants to experience it there. He wrote such wonderful music, there is so much pain, passion, longing, yearning and finally resolution in his music. I walked down the isle to Lohengrin's wedding song which the choir of Trinity College, Melbourne sang. It was exquisite. We are taking the whole family to Lohengrin tomorrow night. Looking forward to part 2.

    1. It was very high on my bucket list and, I think, at the very top of my husband's. I love "Lohengrin!!!" Would love to know how you and the family enjoyed the performance.

      You definitely had a very Wagner wedding. How wonderful!! I can just imagine how magical it was.

      Once you get into Wagner, nothing else comes close to the experience of listening to that music and feeling all of the emotions you so perfectly describe. It's almost a religious experience for those who are true believers.

      Make sure you go to the Festspielhaus web site and sign up for tickets. You just might get lucky. We did.

      Thanks for your great comment.

      Cheers, M-T

    2. We loved Lohengrin. They had a fabulous new way of creating the sets by using a screen backdrop that they could project images of forest, lake and grand castle halls. I hope that this will take off as it made a magical back drop.
      We were delighted that Elsa was performed by Helena Dix. I used to sing in an annual event called Opera in the Alps up in our Victorian mountains. The wonderful couple that put it on have a program to support and train young Opera singers which we also support and sponsor a scholar each year. Helena was the first Scholar of the year and we have followed her career during these years. She is understudying Norma at the Met Opera this season. The chorus also had many of the current opera scholars.
      It was very moving to hear them sing our wedding chorus, my husband reach over and held my hand, remembering watching me walk up the isle.
      It was a great joy to be able to share our love of Wager, and indeed most opera with our sons.

    3. What a wonderful memory, Melissa. I got a little thrill of excitement just reading it. I'm so glad you liked the Lohengrin. Yes, the Met and many other opera companies are using projections to create sets and atmosphere. Sometimes they can be a bit of a distraction when not done well, but when done well, such as in the Met's current production of Werther, which is fabulous, they are wonderful.

      As it happens, our first opera of the Met season is Norma on October 7th w/Sondra Radvanovsky. Dan and I are big fans of hers. Can't wait to hear her do it "live," as we already heard her sing the role w/another opera company over the radio. She sounded fabulous and the audience went wild. I'll keep an eye/ear out for Helena Dix.

      I love to hear that people are encouraging, promoting and supporting young singers. I also love seeing young people at the opera. They are the future of this art form, and I'm happy to pass the torch to these young ones -- audience as well as singers.

      Hope your sons enjoyed the opera.

      Cheers, M-T

  5. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    Funny, in this aspect I'm more siding with Madam Mère... so is Pieter!
    So far I had not known that Cosima was the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt! Interesting life and I prefer Liszt's music above Wagner's.
    No doubt you have had a fabulous time.
    My best friend Ellie, from the Netherlands, is married to a Wagner fanatic. He would be a far better match for you both. But of course we do like a few of his pieces.
    Sending you hugs for a happy Sunday!

    1. Dearest Mariette,

      I have always thought that Mme Mère would have loved you. Now I'm sure of it. Liszt was one of her favorites.

      We had a wonderful time in Bayreuth with a notable exception, which I will get into in Part 2. Wagner fanatics are not easy to live with if you do not share their obsession. Luckily, Dan and I share this all-consuming obsession.

      Hope your Sunday was lovely.

      Hugs to you and Pieter,

      Gros bisous, ma chère amie,


  6. How wonderful. I am glad you enjoyed it. Maybe one day we might get there. I hear the seats in the auditorium are very hard and that you need to take a cushion.

    1. The seats are incredibly uncomfortable and the lack of air conditioning in August makes you feel as if you are baking in an oven. A hand fan saved my life. Otherwise, I would not have survived the heat. That said, it was an amazing experience.

      Thanks for stopping by, Josephine.

      Cheers, M-T

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    1. So glad you enjoyed your visit. Come back again.

      Cheers, M-T

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      Cheers, M-T

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