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New Wagners play tune at Bayreuth fete

A NEW generation of Wagners is at the helm as the annual Bayreuth festival opens in Germany this weekend, with composer Richard Wagner's great-granddaughter saying that she hopes to help bring "opera to the people."

Half-sisters Katharina Wagner, 31, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 64, were named as co-directors last September - becoming the first new management team in more than a half-century after their 89-year-old father, Wolfgang, agreed to end his long reign.

Festival-goers may not immediately notice much change; with performers booked years ahead, this year's event offers no new productions. It opens tomorrow with Christoph Marthaler's staging of "Tristan and Isolde" and runs through August 28.

However, the new team has innovations to offer on the sidelines - notably a version of "The Flying Dutchman" for children, cut to an hour, whose 10 performances are sold out.

Following its first live Internet broadcast in 2008, a move championed by Katharina Wagner, the festival this year will offer a performance of "Tristan and Isolde" live on the Web on August 9 - with Webcast prices cut to 14.90 euros (US$21.20) from last year's steep 49 euros.

The same performance also will be screened live in a central Bayreuth square, with free admission.

"It is a matter of the heart for me to bring opera to the people," Katharina Wagner said on Monday. "Opera is a niche product. I am working with my heart and soul on this product."

She said Marthaler's "Tristan and Isolde" would lend itself well to the webcast and outside screening. "He is a master at staging boredom, standstill and desperation," Wagner claimed.

At the Richard Wagner-designed Festspielhaus itself, the new directors are offering pre-performance talks by experts Katharina Wagner hopes will promote a "better understanding" of the works. They also are introducing slimmed-down programs as a substitute for the unwieldy 28-euro volumes offered in recent years.

Wagner fans typically wait up to 10 years to get tickets for the festival.

The half-sisters' appointment ended a years-long battle in which Wolfgang Wagner, who had a lifetime contract, long resisted efforts to push him out. He finally agreed to step aside after last year's festival; and Katharina and Eva then teamed up to beat out a rival bid from their cousin, Nike Wagner.

The team offered a combination of the youth and experience. Eva Wagner-Pasquier's resume includes years as an artistic consultant at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.


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