Performance | The Ring at Bayreuth, 1876 | High Romantic | Opera
Bayreuth in Bavaria had had an opera house, the Margraves’ Opera House, for 130 years before King Ludwig II contributed towards the construction of the Festspielhaus – the Festival Theatre. The foundation stone was laid on 22 May 1872, and the 1,345-seat theatre opened four years later (it has since been repeatedly enlarged and now seats 1,925). The complete Ring cycle was performed there on 13, 14, 16, and 17 August 1876. Some 4,000 people came to Bayreuth for the occasion, which was regarded as an event of world-class significance. This historic occasion was attended by the emperors of Germany and Brazil, and some of the greatest contemporary composers, including Tchaikovsky, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Grieg and Liszt. Innovative technology provided special attractions. For instance, a magic lantern illuminated the ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in Act III of Die Walküre, the second opera in the Ring cycle.
This first Bayreuth festival lost around 98,000 marks (over £220,000/$380,000 in today’s prices), and no other took place until the first performance of Parsifal in 1882. After Wagner’s death in 1883, his second wife, Cosima, took over the direction of the Festspielhaus and made sure that her late husband’s style of production continued. Members of the Wagner family have been directors of the Festspielhaus ever since.
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