My trip to Bayreuth in August 2000 to see the Ring of the Nibelung cycle performed in Wagner's own theater

This is what you wanted to have -- a ticket!

Now, don't go getting any lame ideas like copying it and forging one for next year. It won't work!

Well, I'm back from my trip now, and I have to say it was an experience. What I want to do on this page is to give a report of what I experienced, and offer suggestions to other first-timers who will make the trip.

To start with, if you want to see the Ring in Bayreuth, you need to plan ahead, or be very lucky. It took me six years on the waiting list to get my ONE ticket, and most people said I was lucky to have only had to wait six years. Usually, it's like ten. And, there were many dozens of people each night standing outside the door holding signs that said "suche Karten" ("looking for tickets"). Some of these people were offering quite a bit of money, but to my knowledge, no one was selling at any price. The tickets are simply too hard to get, and I would never have forgiven myself 10 years from now for having sold for a measly five or six hundred dollars.

Anyway, you need to start out by writing the ticket office at the Festspielhaus. Their address is:

Bayreuther Festspiele
Postfach 10 02 62
D-95402 Bayreuth

You can write in English, German or French, as I think they have people there that speak them all. But German is preferred, of course. Be very nice to them, and understand that they have 40,000 requests each year for the 8,000 or so seats for the complete Ring. They set their own rules, and we live by them. If you don't like it, that's tough. You start by sending them a request. I sent my request in each September. Then, when they answer you, you'll get an official request form, which has to be filled in and returned by November 1. On that day, they do some kind of lottery for all the available tickets, with the decision process somewhat skewed by how long you've been on the list. In other words, every year your name moves farther up the list, but you still have to have some luck. You can request tickets for any of the operas, any dates, any location in the house, but there's one rule: If you want to see the Ring, you gotta request all four performances. And I always said I'd take any seat in a certain price range, for any of the performances of the Ring (they do three cycles each summer). That way, my chances were maximized. Tickets for all four performances cost a total price of between $40 for terrible seats in the back of the balcony (where all you'll see is the guy's head in front of you) to $700 for front row center (lotsa luck getting there, but it would be worth it!). I lied, though, because there are seats with limited view for $38 total, and seats with no view at all (Hörplätze) for an amazing $20 total! Coming to Bayreuth and not being able to see would be like giving a teenager an expired coupon to a whorehouse, though.

My seats were in the balcony, 2nd row, left side, and I had a big pole in front of me not really blocking the stage but being a nuisance nevertheless, and my total cost was $240. Not bad seats. BUT, if I had it to do again, I would NOT sit in the balcony or the gallery, because the sound does not project as well into the balcony. Any seat on the main floor is good if it's toward the middle, and the sound would be fabulous. The warning here is, if you sit in the balcony, the seats are padded. If you sit on the main floor, bring a pillow or your butt will never be the same. That's not a joke. And, it's hot in the theater. No air conditioning. Plenty of people were in tuxes, but I know they were uncomfy. There weren't too many people in jeans, but there were some, I was one, and I felt fine for the most part. Bring something to fan yourself with.

Rooms are expensive in Bayreuth, and you won't find anything available at the last minute. I stayed in a Gasthaus in Nuremberg, which is just about 50 miles away, and that means 35 minutes on the wonderful German autobahn! Gas is expensive, and rental cars are too, but you can't beat $26/night for the room! And you can't beat the freedom of having a car. If you rely on the train to get you to/from Bayreuth, you'll run the real risk of missing the last one each night, and that will make you miserable worrying during the performances about whether you're going to make it. I wouldn't chance it.

The performances start each day at 4:00, except for the first night, Das Rheingold, which starts at 6:00. For Rheingold, you'll be out by 8:30, but it's done without breaks, so plan for a long night. The other three operas are in three acts, and for a Mark, you can buy a little program that lists the singers, and the start times for each act. The routine goes like this: You get there about 2:00 or 3:00 (unless you're me, when you get there at 11:00), and mill about for a while. You buy some expensive food at one of the little shops ($5 for a coke, $8 for champagne, $2 for a small ice cream cone), and maybe look at the stuff at the book/souvenir stands or at the post office they have there to sell commems. Everybody congregates outside the front of the building, where there's a little balcony you can climb up and look out over everyone the way Hitler did in that famous picture. There's a guy who goes out onto that balcony at about 15 or 20 minutes before the start of each act (or for Rheingold, before the beginning of the opera itself) and takes pictures of the whole crowd. Everybody tries to be in those pictures, because then the next day, you can go downtown to his shop at the corner of where Bahnhofstraße meets Luitpoldplatz, and see them all on display. For about $4.25 each, he'll sell you a copy of the one(s) you're in. Pick them up the next day, though.

You can find yourself in the pictures he took, then order them

The white arrow points to yours truly, the only one who actually dressed for the occasion!
(Just before the First Act of Walküre, 22 Aug 2000)

Then, at exactly 15 minutes before the start of each act, at the time they open the theater to ticket-holders, eight of the brass players from the orchestra (which, by the way, is outstanding, and consists of a hodgepodge of professional musicians from orchestras around Germany [though there were some members from other European countries; none from the US]) will come out onto that very stage and play a fanfare of music from the upcoming act. They come out again at 10 minutes till the start and play the same fanfare twice, then at 5 till, they play it three times. You better be headed to your seat by then, because they close the doors at the time they are going to start, and nobody gets in after that. And they are punctual. I never saw it to be more than 30 seconds off of the time the program said, that the whistle blew, the doors closed, and the lights dimmed. Then, when the act is over, after all the applause (usually about 10-15 minutes worth), everybody files out again and they close the theater. Then, you have an hour (less the applause time) for milling around, eating, picknicking, or going to your car and eating the food and wine that you bought at the grocery store. The same routine happens at 15, 10 and 5 before each act. I recorded the fanfares (all exceptRheingold, because I didn't know about it and wasn't prepared), and here they are!

Here they are, playing one of the fanfares

The toughest act to sit through is the first act of Götterdämmerung, which lasts a whopping 2:15! It's a monster. I know Rheingold lasts 2:30, but the story changes so much, you really don't notice it.

And that's about it. The audience is pretty tough, giving thunderous standing ovations for singers they love, and booing or not applauding at all for those who don't meet their standards. For the performances I saw, it was a brand new staging, and they had done some pretty modern things. Most people didn't like it, and I guess the more I watched, the more I really didn't care about the staging, but it was not what I would've preferred, and the singing overshadowed any inadequacies in the set design and concept. I did take some exception to two things:

The lady they had singing Brünnhilde had an overwhelming, fill up the house, blow you out the window kind of voice, and would've been wonderful. But, she had no high C. I listened in wonder as she sat there and missed the octave skips of her first lines ("hojotoho-oh!)". I listened in pain as she held her high B in the love duet with Siegfried at the end of the third act of Siegfried, and I positively wondered why in the hell they had even cast her in the role when, at the end of the Prologue of Götterdämmerung, she HELD what should've been a high C (to match Siegfried's A-flat in a major third), but what turned out in fact to be a minor third because she was holding a B. Ouch. I couldn't believe it, and neither could anybody else. She got no applause to speak of at the end of the first act for that.

And, even though the set designs were modern, people generally put up with things like Wotan in a business suit, using a computer and a paper shredder while carrying a spear, Alberich showing up to the Rheinmaidens carrying around an Aldi sack (I wish I were kidding), and the dragon(?) Fafner, which was nothing more than a stage-sized garbage bag with people wrapped up in it, flailing around somewhat randomly. When Alberich turned himself into the frog, he was well represented by a small green beanbag that Loge flicked around the stage like it was jumping on its own. But the real kicker, that left such a bad taste in everyone's mouth, was the very ending. No funeral pyre, no Grane, no Rhein river overswelling its banks, no fire consuming Valhalla. Just a bare unlit stage that opened on some kid standing in a Valkyrie outfit on a bare lit stage. What was that? I thought I was at the wrong opera. Good thing the stage designer didn't show up for a bow; he'd have been screamed off the stage.

There was one high point in the third act of Walküre. You know, the heart-wrenching scene where Wotan says goodbye to Brünnhilde? Well, there was this bird that had gotten into the theater somehow, and was flying around the audience and the stage, completely destroying your ability to concentrate on what was going on, and pretty much mangling the mood of the whole thing. I know that bird was one opera too early. :-)

And then, there was the wonderfully-designed train track-looking thing in Rheingold that carried the gold that they piled up to cover Freia. Well, as the trainload of gold was coming into position, the whole track assembly came apart and crashed to the stage. Stagehands came out onto the stage to fix it, with these poor singers having to continue the scene and stay in character as best they could without being able to follow any of their blocking layouts. It was pretty sad.

Plácido Domingo was superb as Siegmund, and got the thunderous ovations he deserved. I had some reservations beforehand about him in that role; not any more!

Overall, though, the trip was worth it. The performances were, for the most part, wonderful, and I would say that my trip to the mecca of Wagnerism was worth the six-year wait. I don't know if my marriage would survive my trying to get another ticket, but I could think about it for the furture. If you go, good luck, and I hope this little introduction has helped you in some small way! Make sure you know the story before you go, and you won't run the risk of Wagnering yourself to death!

City Hall, I think...

Graffiti artwork from the canal - there are about 12 panels!

A square in downtown Bayreuth


© 2000 Dan McGlaun