Led by Nathalie Wagner, long-time President of the Wagner Society of New York, a group of 14 Wagner Societies from North America have sent an impressively coordinated letter to the Administrative Board of the Festival asking it to reconsider its recently announced change of policy regarding allottting tickets.
The letter (which appears in full below) is clear and respectful, and a model of gentility compared to some of the furious and indignant communications that have been electronically swooping the globe.
Some Societies are quite put out. The decision was apparently already made at the time when the Societies were invited to submit their requests, as usual, in the Fall. In reliance on what turned out to be an ephemeral invitation, these Societies solicited interest from their respective memberships as usual, and got things lined up, as always, only to be told two months later, during the week when the alloted tickets are ordinarily announced, that announced they never would be.
Moreover there is quite a tradition at stake here. The Wagner Societies were first organized by Wagner himself in 1872, as a way of capitalizing the construction of the theatre and the presentation of the 1876 Fesitval. Members of the various Wagner Societies were promised tickets to the Festival in exchange for their contributions. Now, to complete the irony, Societies are being asked to make contributions, and assured that they will not receive tickets in return! A compelling business proposition if ever there was one!
(For a brief overview of the history of the Wagner Societies click here. A partial list of the Societies — including only the 147 of them on six continents who are members of the Wagner Verband — can be found here.)
It clearly was handled in a ham-fisted way, and one senses that the matter might have been susceptible to a bit more elegance and sensitivity to the legitimate concerns of the various constituents. And one must speculate that there might be an outcome that, with more thoughtfulness, transparency and consultation, might have been a bit more nuanced. The auditors’ concerns might well have been addressed in a way that also allowed the Festival to continue to benefit from the contribution of such entities as the Friends of Bayreuth or the English language lectures, which in turn add to the coffers of the Gesellschaft. Moreover, the missions of the Societies and of the Festival surely overlap, and one would need to be intellectually bankrupt to conclude that they could not accommodate each other’s concerns.
In any event, it seems unlikely that anything will change for the 2012 season; presumably the thousands of tickets that would have been allocated to the Societies are now merrily on their way to elated individual applicants.
(Funny, my mailbox is curiously bare! You guys have my address, right?)
To all members of the Administrative Board of the Bayreuther Festspiele e.V.:
Mr. Toni Schmid
Dr. Michael Bauer
Mr. Martin Eifler
Mr. Björn Diecke
Dr. Michael Hohl
Mr. Carsten Hillgruber
Gesellschaft der Freunde von Bayreuth:
Dr. Georg Freiherr von Waldenfels
Prof. Dr. h.c. Stephan Götzl
Managing Director of the Bayreuth Festival: Mrs. Eva Wagner-Pasquier
Managing Director of the Bayreuth Festival: Ms. Katharina Wagner
January 4, 2012
Dear esteemed ladies and gentlemen:
This letter comes to you from all North American Wagner societies. Our many thousands of members are shocked by the decision to stop the allocation of tickets to Wagner societies. We plan for many years and travel great distances to participate in the Bayreuth Festival and to support it in many ways. Wagner Society members and, in fact, all lovers of Wagner’s great music, strongly believe that the Bayreuth Festival needs to continue its all important task of carrying out Wagner’s vision by providing powerful and beautiful productions of his work. Wagner societies, who have had a long and strong relationship with the Festival, have been an essential part of this process by bringing in new members who not only add to the Festival’s audience but in a greater sense add to the world audience for Wagner’s music.
However, your decision, taken on October 18, 2011, and transmitted in mid-December, to stop the allocation of tickets to Wagner Societies would make it difficult for us to support and maintain our active participation in this process. As Prof. Eva Märtson, President of the Richard-Wagner-Verband International, e.V., has already noted in her letter of 21.12.2011, Wagner societies around the world exist for only two purposes. These are (1) to promote a deeper understanding of Wagner’s music and art by providing lectures, the knowledge of experts, small concerts, and support to their local opera houses when they produce Wagner’s operas and (2) to provide support and assistance to young musicians, singers, and conductors who demonstrate a particular talent for the performance of Wagner’s music dramas. Wagner societies are non-profit organizations whose minimal membership fees and donations from members are used to defray the costs of their promotional work. They are maintained by the love and commitment of dedicated volunteers, whose only interest is to maintain and encourage the great operas of Richard Wagner. Wagner societies explore and bring this essential part of German culture worldwide.
Moreover, many societies contribute donations to the Gesellschaft der Freunde von Bayreuth as part of their commitment to maintaining the excellence of the Festival: both the productions and the infrastructure.
Wagner societies have been, as far as is known, scrupulous in following the dictates of the Festival management with regard to the ticket allocation process. While scalping of tickets to the Festival and black market ticket sales are well known, members of Wagner societies decry this practice and exercise great care in their own allocation of tickets to members to ensure that their organizations never fall into this practice. In this regard, all tickets allotted to Wagner societies are paid for at full price.
We are fully in support of measures taken by the Festival management and governing bodies to make the ticket process as transparent and open as possible and encourage such efforts in the future to ensure the smooth running of this world famous and important festival. We really do understand the value of fairness in the distribution of tickets, that tour operators and others who profit from their activities should not have any special treatment, so we would be more than willing to continue to make sure our that tickets are distributed with the same fairness as always.
For Wagner society members, especially those who volunteer their time and energy to their organizations, Bayreuth is still seen as the mecca for lovers of Wagner’s music. Trips to the Festival, for many, are the highpoint of their musical experience. Bayreuth also provides important opportunities for cultural exchanges such as (in 2011) hearing the president and members of the Israel Wagner Society talk about why they felt it was so necessary to found a Wagner society in Israel. Such cultural exchanges are fragile and should be nurtured.
We ask therefore that you reconsider the decision taken on October 18 and allow Wagner societies to apply for a yearly allocation of tickets, on a basis to be determined. We also request that, at the present time, the applicants for the 2012 season who have been hoping for many months to be able to attend in 2012 be allowed to send in their individual orders even though the deadline for submission has passed.
We would appreciate your response as soon as possible. We look forward to hearing from you and moving forward together to further the renowned Bayreuth Festival on the highest levels.
Wagner Society of America
Wagner Society of Boston
Wagner Society of Dallas
Wagner Society of Cincinnati
Wagner Society of Florida
Wagner Society of New York
Wagner Society of Hawaii
Wagner Society of Northern California
Wagner Society of Ohio
Wagner Society of Santa Fe
Wagner Society of Southern California
Wagner Society of Toronto
Wagner Society of the Upper Midwest
Wagner Society of Washington, DC
Copy: Prof. Eva Märtson, Präsidentin
Richard-Wagner-Verband International e.V.