richard wagner festspielhaus bayreuth summer festival germany

Summer Music Festivals – Bayreuth (Franconia) and Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

A Bounty of Beautiful Music

For opera buffs, witnessing the performance of Der Ring des Niebelungen conducted by James Levine in the 18th-century Markgrafliches Opernhaus in Richard Wagner’s hometown of Bayreuth is something akin to nirvana.

For five weeks every summer, Wagner lovers converge from all over the world, clutching hard-won tickets for Bayreuth’s Wagner Festival. The rococo opera house shares the spotlight with the unadorned, intimidating Festspielhaus (festival house). Built and financed by Wagner, it is a high temple of music.

The enormous stage is needed for the giant casts required to pull off his grand pro­ductions. The orchestra pit is sunken, so that the music seems to float toward you from nowhere and everywhere. Nearbv. Wagner and his second wife, the daughter of composer Franz Liszt, are buried in the house where they lived.

For lovers of classical music in general, Germany’s largest summer cultural event takes place in the province of Schleswig-Holstein, in the heart of the beautiful lake district between Hamburg and the Danish border. Ever since Leonard Bernstein launched the Schleswig- Holstein Music Festival, world-class artists have marked it on their summer schedules.

Some 125 performances are given in more than forty venues, including theaters, churches, barns, a riding academy, private manor houses, and candlelit castles. Most of the program relates to two themes: the music of a single nation (recent attention has been given to Israel and the Czech Republic), and an in-depth look at the work of an individual composer.

Bernstein hoped to create a European equiva­lent of the Tanglewood Music Center, where the best of the up-and-coming generation of musi­cians profit from close contact with eminent performers; Bernstein conducted some of his last master classes here.

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