Opening 28 Oct 2021
Writing credits: Axel Brüggemann, Toni Schmid
Composer Richard Wagner was born 1813 in Leipzig. In 1876 his festival opera house (Festspielhaus) opened in Bayreuth with the first Bayreuth Festival, the oldest music presentation of its kind. That was 145 years ago, and today there are more than 125 Wagner Associations with 30,000 members worldwide. The business manager/artistic director has always been a member of the Wagner family. Today it is Wagner’s great granddaughter Katharina Wagner (who also happens to be the great-great-grand-daughter of Franz Listz).
This documentary film (which premiered at the 2021 Filmfest Hamburg) begins in Venice where Wagner died in 1883. Then we go to Newark, New Jersey, USA, to converse with opera baritone Kevin Maynor. He, together with Reverend T. Jones of the Baptist Church, organized performances of Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” for People of Color with the first black opera singer for a black audience. In Riga, Latvia, a flash mob choir sings in the streets. We experience Wagner in Abu Dhabi and then go to Tokyo, where the Keio University Wagner Association exists since 1901. Engineer student Takeuchi Yutaka and his friends play Wagner in the cherry-blossom park. A Japanese businessman supports a one-hour version of “Parsival” for children in his bank. Wagner has long been opposed in Israel due to his antisemitism. Jewish lawyer Jonathan Livny, and his Wagner Association, founded in 2010 in Jerusalem, are working to present the first official performance of a Wagner opera. Livny says, “Wagner was an abominable person, but he created heavenly music.”
Every summer Bayreuth becomes the center of culture and a mecca for international visitors, including Germany’s long-term chancellor, Angela Merkel. The festival house is famous for its orchestra pit – one of the first of its kind – as well as its extraordinary acoustics. There are interesting discussions with Katharina Wagner, conductor Christian Thielemann (who was just honored with a full page in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper) and five singers including Placido Domingo. American music critic Alex Ross shares his opinions as do Ulrike and Georg Rauch, who have a butcher shop near the festival house and frequently rent out rooms to participants. If you weren’t already a Wagner lover, you will be one now, after experiencing the enthusiasm of his followers, supported by 21 different Wagner compositions. (Becky Tan)