Bayreuth Festspielhaus

The Bayreuth Festspielhaus or Bayreuth Festival Theatre (German: Bayreuther Festspielhaus, pronounced ) is an opera house north of Bayreuth, Germany, dedicated solely to the performance of operas by the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner. It is the venue for the annual Bayreuth Festival, for which it was specifically conceived and built.


Design

The design was adapted by Wagner, without the architect's permission, from an unrealised project by Gottfried Semper for an opera house in Munich, and built under Wagner's supervision. Its construction was funded principally by Ludwig II of Bavaria. The foundation stone was laid on 22 May 1872 (Wagner's birthday). The building was first opened for the premiere of the complete four-opera cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), from August 13, 1876 to August 17, 1876.


Only the entry façade exhibits the typical late-19th-century ornamentation, while the remainder of the exterior is modest and shows mostly undecorated brick stone. The interior is mainly wood, which is said to contribute to the excellent acoustics. Unlike the traditional opera house design with several tiers of seating in a horse-shoe shaped auditorium, the Festspielhaus's seats are arranged in a single steeply-shaped wedge, with no galleries or boxes. The capacity is 1,925.


The Festspielhaus features a double proscenium, which gives the audience the illusion that the stage is further away than it actually is. The double proscenium and the recessed orchestra pit create — in Wagner's term — a "mystic gulf" between the audience and the stage. This gives a dreamlike character to performances, and provides a physical reinforcement of the mythic content of most of Wagner's operas.


The first foundation stone for the Festpielhaus was laid on May 22, 1872, which was Wagner’s 59th birthday. The building’s grand opening was for the premiere of the complete opera The Ring of the Nibelung which would run for four days from August 13-17, 1876. The architecture of Festpielhaus accomplished many of Wagner’s goals and ideals for the performances of his operas including an improvement on the sound, feel, and overall look of the production.


The Festpielhaus was originally planned to open in 1873, but by that time Wagner had barely raised enough money to put up the walls of his theatre. He began to raise money by traveling and putting on concerts in various cities and countries throughout Europe. Even after Ludwig began funding the project, Wagner had to continue putting on concerts to keep the building project financially afloat. The tours were very taxing on Wagner’s health and would eventually be a key element to his death later on in 1883.


Orchestra pit

A significant feature of the Festspielhaus is its unusual orchestra pit. It is recessed under the stage and covered by a hood, so that the orchestra is completely invisible to the audience. This feature was a central preoccupation for Wagner, since it made the audience concentrate on the drama onstage, rather than the distracting motion of the conductor and musicians. The design also corrected the balance of volume between singers and orchestra, creating ideal acoustics for Wagner's operas, which are the only operas performed at the Festspielhaus. However, this arrangement has also made it the most challenging to conduct in, even for the world's best conductors. Not only is the crowded pit enveloped in darkness, but the acoustic reverberation makes it difficult to synchronise the orchestra with the singers. Conductors must therefore retrain themselves to ignore cues from singers.


The orchestra layout deployed at Bayreuth is unusual in three ways:


Bayreuth Festival

The Festspielhaus remains the venue of the annual Bayreuth Festival, during which Wagner's later operas, such as the Ring cycle and Parsifal, are given on a repertory basis.


  • Floor Plan

  • Auditorium, 1876

  • Bayreuth Festspielhaus, earlier design

  • Building in 1882

Building Activity

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