Curtain rises on 98th Bayreuth Festival
The curtain went up on the first night of the 98th Bayreuth Festival on Saturday, with a gala performance of "Tristan and Isolde", attended by Germany's political and social elite.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the many guests welcomed by Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 64, and her half-sister, Katharina Wagner, 31, who this year have taken over the joint running of the legendary month-long festival dedicated to the works of their great-grandfather, Richard Wagner.
Among the other ministers arriving at the Festspielhaus theatre, built to Wagner's own designs, were Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer and Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
Culture minister Bernd Neumann has also invited his British and Polish counterparts, Ben Bradshaw and Bogdan Zdrojewski.
The glitzy first night is always attended by local and national showbiz personalities such as TV showmaster Thomas Gottschalk and singer Roberto Blanco.
For the past 57 years, Bayreuth has been run by Wagner's grandson, the white-haired autocratic Wolfgang Wagner, who turns 90 next month.
But he stepped down last year, handing over the reins to his two daughters, Katharina and Eva.
The two half-sisters -- Eva is Wolfgang's daughter by his first marriage, and Katharina the only child from his second marriage to Gudrun, who died unexpectedly in 2007 -- could not be more different.
Eva is notoriously media-shy, while Katharina is seen as hip and tech-savvy and has brought Bayreuth into the 21st century with a new, trendy multi-media presence.
Eva, an artistic consultant and casting director for some of the world's top opera houses, is responsible for hiring the best singers, conductors and directors.
Katharina, for her part, is in charge of marketing and is seen as the festival's public face.
Among this year's changes is a new "Wagner for Kids" series, with a specially adapted version of the composer's "Flying Dutchman" made palatable for six-to-10 year olds.
As every year, the 2009 edition will run from July 25 until August 28.
But, contrary to tradition where one new production is staged every year, it will comprise straight re-runs of last year's productions of "Tristan and Isolde", "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg", "Parsifal" and the massive four-part "Ring" cycle.
The idea was to have a transition year given the change in leadership and with Bayreuth already beginning to prepare for Wagner's bicentenary in 2013.
There had been fears that the first night would be jeopardised by a pay strike by the 140 largely seasonal stage and technical staff, which would have been a first in Bayreuth's history.
But a deal was reached at the last minute on Thursday, allowing the festival to go ahead.
In the past, it had always been considered an honour to work on Wagner's "Green Hill".
Pay, for singers, musicians and conductors alike, was well below levels paid in other leading opera houses around the world.
But under the terms of the deal, signed on Friday, the festival's technical and administrative employees would be paid wages in line with the norm in the sector.
In addition, employees would be paid extra for the heavy workload required of them during the month-long festival, as well as a bonus to compensate for the short-term nature of their contracts, the union said.