Bayreuth Nightlife

Sunday, August 20, 2000

If you do not have a ticket to the opera during the Wagner Festival, do not worry. Go to Bayreuth anyway. You will not regret it.

If your spouse or partner has an opera ticket and you do not, he or she can join you for dinner during the hour-long intermissions at the Festspielhaus Restaurant and can fill you in on what just took place on the stage inside the theater. (Warning!:  Do not give him or her your ticket to go inside the Festspielhaus in your place during the next Act. That rule is strictly enforced.). If your hearing is good enough and you sit close enough to the Festspielhaus during the performance, you might hear muffled strains of that heavenly music wafting through those wood and brick walls of the building. If not, at least you will hear the applause, which sometimes lasts for half an hour! My opera mate did not have tickets to the performances, but he came with me to Bayreuth anyway and joined me for dinner at the Festspielhaus Restaurant. He rented a bicycle and while I was at the opera, he bicycled around the town and the countryside and rushed up to the Green Hill at Intermission Time. We knew what times intermissions were, as they were posted on the bulletin board of our hotel.

Every evening, there was some sort of musical or theatrical entertainment going on in town, to accommodate those who did not have tickets to the Festival. There were Liederabends (evenings of song, with a guest soloist), piano recitals, plays, and even lectures on Wagner and his music. On two of the nights I was there, no operas at all were being performed on the Green Hill. So, my opera mate and I got a chance to take in some evening entertainment together.

There were no operas on Wednesday, August 23 and Friday, August 25, so we went to two piano recitals at Haus Wahnfried, given by Marilyn Shields-Wiltsie and Stefan Mickisch, respectively. Marilyn is a fellow member of the Wagner Society of New York and recently graduated from Vanderbilt University. I don’t know her personally, but she has given quite a few recitals in the U.S. and abroad. The evening we heard her perform, she did a number of pieces by Liszt, R. Strauss, and Wagner. Stefan Mickisch is an old friend whom I first heard here in Washington, DC a number of years ago. This young man has written a number of paraphrases of Wagner’s operas. Paraphrases are not transcriptions, such as Liszt had composed, but rather personal interpretations of the emotions in the operas. To understand and appreciate Mickisch’s paraphrases it is necessary to know Wagner’s operas thoroughly.

These two gifted pianists are among the very few who are allowed to play on Wagner’s Steinway, which had been a gift to Wagner by the Steinway Company in New York on the occasion of the Ring premiere in 1876. It is a delightful old piano and sits in the restored salon that is pictured in books on Wagner’s life. During the daytime during visiting hours, visitors to Wahnfried sit in that salon, facing that piano, and listen to recordings of Wagner’s music. The recorder is placed so that it appears the music is coming from that piano. One is not supposed to touch that piano, but many of us do. Yes, dear friends, I did sneak a touch my first day there when everyone else was deep in rapture listening to that recording.

Walking back to our hotel from Wahnfried late at night, we could not help notice how deserted and quiet Richard Wagner Street was. Bayreuth is a small rural town and most shops close early. During the daytime, Mondays through Saturdays, Richard Wagner Street is a busy thoroughfare with shops, shoppers, and lost sightseeers trying to find their way to Wahnfried. Once we turned right on Opera Street, we began to notice more life and excitement. Sometimes the Margrave Opera House has performances in the evenings during the Wagner Festival. And there are a few outdoor cafés there which stay open late at night. However, the main center for nightlife, at least the week I was there, was the block on Bahnhoff Street, where the Hotel Weihenstephan is. Recall that the Hotel Weihenstephan has that neat outdoor café where a friend and I had lunch earlier in the week? And how bustling and busy the place is during the day? It is even more busy at night! That whole block is filled with outdoor cafés. I had heard that it was a very noisy block, but I could not believe how noisy it could possibly be until I saw and heard it with my own eyes and ears. (It was just like my neighborhood back here in Washington, DC, that bohemian Dupont Circle, known for its abundance of alternative lifestyles, late-night coffee houses, artsy bookstores, and pubs. However, the Dupont Circle neighborhood is so large that most of downtown Bayreuth could easily fit into it.) People gathered there on nights of no opera and late at night after the opera. They stood and chatted and drank until the wee hours of the morning. To borrow an old saying I once heard applied to Ireland, in Bayreuth during the Wagner Festival, there are no strangers, only friends you have not yet met!

My one favorite hangout in all of Bayreuth was not a bookstore nor an opera house nor a museum, but an out of the way restaurant, Die Eule, back off the beaten path along narrow little Kirchgasse Street (#8) just south of Maxmilian Street. Most of us from the Wagner Society of Washington, DC made it a point to go there after most performances for drinks. We had learned about this place from singer Thomas Stewart, to whom we had given the Second Wagner Award at our annual banquet in May 2000. In his acceptance speech, he mentioned that the warmth and atmosphere of the Old Europe Restaurant in Washington, DC where the banquet was held, reminded him of Die Eule, where Wagnerians gather to talk every night after the opera. Most of us who were headed for Bayreuth that summer had attended the banquet, and upon hearing Stewart’s comments, we perked up our ears with excitement. Pens hit napkins as everyone scribbled out how they thought the name of the place should be spelled and we all vowed to visit this magic spot in Bayreuth where we could live out our fantasies eating and drinking in a world of Wagner. And a world of Wagner it is! Upon entering Die Eule, one is greeted by a bust of Wagner jutting out from the wall. The restaurant has three rooms, and the walls of each one is covered Victorian-style with copies of photographs and drawings of singers, copies of stagebills and libretto covers, and much more, all of them Wagner-related. Entering that restaurant, I fell under such a magic spell, I did not want to leave. We ate and drank good beer and talked to our own group and to other opera-goers about that evening’s performance. It was the place for Wagner-lovers. If I lived in Bayreuth year round, that would be my favorite hangout.

Now I am back home in Washington, DC and I miss being in Bayreuth. It’s the excitement of the Wagner Festival that I love. With seven operas in ten days and all of them Wagner’s, how much better can opera-going get? Opera-going will not feel the same again. I’m putting in my request and keeping my fingers crossed…. Next August in Bayreuth!

by Jan Rosen

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