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Wolfgang Wagner

Wolfgang Wagner (born 30 August, 1919) was the director (Festspielleiter) of the Bayreuth Festival from 1951 to 2008, a position he initially assumed alongside his brother Wieland in 1951.



Wolfgang is the son of Siegfried Wagner, the grandson of Richard Wagner, and the great-grandson of Franz Liszt. He married twice, to Ellen Drexel and Gudrun Mack. Gudrun died in November 2007.[1] He has three children: Eva, born 1945, Gottfried, born 1947 and Katharina, born 1978[2]. He was reportedly estranged from the children of his first marriage; with Gottfried over the family's connection with Adolf Hitler, a friend of Wolfgang's mother Winifred; with Eva over control of the Bayreuth Festival.[3] Eva was eventually named as his successor as the director of the Bayreuth Festival in conjunction with his preferred candidate Katharina after the two women reached an agreement following the death of Katharina's mother.[4].


Wolfgang worked with his older brother Wieland Wagner on the resurrection, in 1951, of the Bayreuth Festival following Germany's collapse after the Second World War. The festival has run on an annual basis since then. On Wieland's death in 1966, Wolfgang became the sole director of the festival. Under his directorship, the famous Bayreuth Festspielhaus underwent extensive renovations. It was announced on 29 April 2008 that he would step down on 31 August 2008 when the year's festival had finished.[5]

Both brothers contributed productions to the Bayreuth Festival, but Wolfgang did not enjoy the same critical reception as Wieland did. Like his brother, Wolfgang favoured modern, minimalist stagings of his grandfather's works in his productions. As director of the festival, Wolfgang commissioned work from many guest producers, including innovative and controversial stagings such as the 1976 production of the Ring Cycle by Patrice Chéreau. He, however, confined the stagings at the festival to the last ten operas by his grandfather that make up the Bayreuth canon established under the direction of his grandmother Cosima Wagner.

Wolfgang attracted some criticism for what was seen as his autocratic sway over the Festival.[3] Much of this criticism comes from within the Wagner family itself. Wieland's daughters, Daphne and Nike Wagner, have accused their uncle of ill-treating their branch of the family, saying that he drove them and their mother out of the family home following their father's death and destroyed the scenery, models and correspondence with artists relating to their father's work. There are also what Wagner writer Barry Millington notes as two rather inconsistent threads of criticism about Wolfgang's role in managing the presentation of the family's connection with the Nazis. Daphne accuses him of blackening her father's name by releasing information on Wieland's connection with the Bayreuth satellite of the Flossenbürg concentration camp, while Wolfgang's own son, Gottfried, accuses him of having tried to suppress all information about the Wagner grandchildren's connection with the Nazis.[6]

Nonetheless, he helped make the Bayreuth one of the most popular destinations in the world of opera. There was a ten-year waiting list for tickets.[7] In 1994, he invited Werner Herzog (who had staged Lohengrin at Bayreuth in 1987) to make a documentary about the festival, which was released under the title Die Verwandlung der Welt in Musik (The Transformation of the World into Music).

See also


Further reading

  • Carr, Jonathan: The Wagner Clan: The Saga of Germany's Most Illustrious and Infamous Family. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007. ISBN 0871139758

External links


Simple English

Wolfgang Wagner

Wolfgang Wagner (born 30 August 1919 - 21 March 2010) was a German opera director.[1] He was the grandson of the opera composer Richard Wagner and great-grandson of the composer Franz Liszt.[1] For 42 years he was director of the Bayreuth Festival, which was created by Richard Wagner for the performances of his operas. At first he was director together with his brother Wieland. After Wieland died he continued to be director until he retired in 2008. He tried to get rid of the festival’s Nazi past, and put on productions which were very symbolic: using lighting effects instead of complicated scenery and heavy costumes.


Wagner was born in Bayreuth. His mother, Winifred Wagner (born Williams-Klindworth), was English. She married Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried, who was much older than she was. Although Siegfried was gay they had two sons (Wieland and Wolfgang) and two daughters.

When Siegfried died in 1930 Winifred took over the running of the festival. She was friends with Adolf Hitler who often came to the performances. Hitler became a family friend. The children called him “Uncle Adolf” or “Uncle Wolf” (his nickname). When World War II started, Wieland did not have to fight in the army because Hitler said he was too important for German culture. However, Wolfgang had to fight, and he was wounded in Poland, but got better. He started to produce operas in Berlin. Hitler liked him, but he never joined the Nazi party.

During the war a lot of Bayreuth buildings were damaged, but not the theatre. The Americans used it for religious services. After the war Winifred was not allowed to run the opera house because of her Nazi past, but Wieland became director and Wolfgang looked after the money. The two brothers started the festival again in 1951. They formed the orchestra again, and invited Hans Knappertsbusch and Herbert von Karajan to conduct. They deliberately avoided using lots of scenery and made use of symbolic ideas, especially lighting.

When Wieland died in 1966 Wolfgang was the only director. He continued the modern ideas of his brother, using very simple staging techniques. The production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 1976 by the opera director Patrice Chéreau was particularly important. Many people loved it, others disagreed with it. The production of the Ring Cycle in 1983 by Peter Hall, conducted by Georg Solti celebrated the 100th birthday of Richard Wagner. People argued about this production, too. Since then, many famous people have visited the festival, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German President Horst Köhler. In 1982 Grace Bumbry was the first black person to sing at the festival (she sang the part of Venus in Tannhäuser. Some of the audience thought this was shocking, but she sang so beautifully that everyone applauded for 30 minutes. She had to take 42 curtain calls.

Wolfgang married twice. His first wife was Ellen Drexel. He had two children by this marriage. He argued with them. His son did not like the family’s past Nazi connections, and the daughter Eva argued about the control of the festival. Wolfgang later married Gudrun Mack, with whom he had a daughter Katharina. Eva and Katharina now run the festival.

Wolfgang died aged 90 in Bayreuth in 2010.

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