Thu, Jul 29, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Classically inclined Bayreuthers take their opera seriously

The yearly Richard Wagner Festival in Germany has severe rules of etiquette, which must be followed

AFP , Bayreuth, Germany

The annual Richard Wagner Festival, which turns this otherwise sleepy provincial little town every year into a center of pilgrimage for tens of thousands of opera aficionados, has strict rules of etiquette which set it apart from other summer music festivals.

Here are some of the do's and don'ts for those who don't want to embarrass themselves on their first visit to Bayreuth.

Never ask your neighbor for a summary of the plot. People who go to Bayreuth know their Wagner inside out and do not need to be told what is going on on stage.

The whopping 240-page program includes dense pages of learned articles of Wagner scholarship -- both mainstream and off-the-beaten-track -- but it never has a summary of the plot.

If you do not know the stories, you can always sneak off for a summary from the bookstore next to the Festspielhaus in the interval, but make sure you are not seen reading it in public.

The Festspielhaus does not have an interval bell. 15 minutes before each act begins, trumpeters on the royal porch play a fanfare comprising a short key phrase of music from the upcoming act of the particular opera being performed that evening. They repeat it again twice -- at 10 and five minutes before the curtain rises.

Never arrive late because the door attendants have strict instructions not to let latecomers in. And if you miss the bell, you will have a long wait -- each act in a Wagner opera lasts well over an hour.

Once in, do not bother sitting down until all the seats on either side are occupied. The seats and rows are so narrow you will only be forced to stand up again everytime someone wants to get past.

Take an extra seat cushion with you. The seats in the Festspielhaus are hard and wooden and can be painful if you are sitting on them for six hours or more.

This year's festival showcases six performances of a new production of Wagner's final music-drama, Parsifal.

It is a contentious new reading by Christoph Schlingensief, self-styled enfant-terrible of German theater. But whether you like it or hate it, do not give vent to your feelings at the end of every act as you normally would do in opera performances. In a practice introduced by Richard Wagner's widow Cosima back in the 19th century, Bayreuth etiquette forbids applause (or anything else) between the acts. If you start to clap you may find yourself pounced upon and physically restrained by the people sitting next to you.

Do not dress down. Earlier, you were not allowed in if you were not wearing evening dress. Nowadays, such dress codes are impossible to impose. But if you wear anything less than a tuxedo or ball-gown you will have to suffer looks of sheer despisal from other guests.

Do not take pictures. Seasoned Bayreuthers turn their noses up at such practices. But if you insist on taking a camera with you, make sure you do not take a picture of the inside of the auditorium or of the singers' curtain calls. That is strictly forbidden and attendants implement the rule mercilessly.

Finally, leave your mobile phone in the cloakroom. Bayreuthers take their music very seriously and fidgeting, whispering or coughing while an opera is in progress is severely frowned upon. If your mobile were to go off at a crucial moment, you would probably be lynched.

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