The or Bayreuth Festival Theatre
is an opera house
An opera house is a theatre building used for opera performances that consists of a stage, an orchestra pit, audience seating, and backstage facilities for costumes and set building...
north of Bayreuth
, Germany, dedicated solely to the performance of opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...
s by the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...
. It is the venue for the annual Bayreuth Festival
The Bayreuth Festival is a music festival held annually in Bayreuth, Germany, at which performances of operas by the 19th century German composer Richard Wagner are presented...
, for which it was specifically conceived and built.
The design was adapted by Wagner, without the architect's permission, from an unrealised project by Gottfried Semper
Gottfried Semper was a German architect, art critic, and professor of architecture, who designed and built the Semper Opera House in Dresden between 1838 and 1841. In 1849 he took part in the May Uprising in Dresden and was put on the government's wanted list. Semper fled first to Zürich and later...
for an opera house in Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...
, and built under Wagner's supervision. Its construction was funded principally by Ludwig II of Bavaria
Ludwig II was King of Bavaria from 1864 until shortly before his death. He is sometimes called the Swan King and der Märchenkönig, the Fairy tale King...
. The foundation stone was laid on 22 May 1872 (Wagner's birthday). The building was first opened for the premiere of the complete four-opera cycle of (The Ring of the Nibelung
), from August 13, 1876 to August 17, 1876.
Only the entry façade
A facade or façade is generally one exterior side of a building, usually, but not always, the front. The word comes from the French language, literally meaning "frontage" or "face"....
exhibits the typical late-19th-century ornamentation, while the remainder of the exterior is modest and shows mostly undecorated brick stone. The interior is mainly wood, which is said to contribute to the excellent acoustics . Unlike the traditional opera house design with several tiers of seating in a horse-shoe shaped auditorium, the Festspielhaus's seats are arranged in a single steeply-shaped wedge, with no galleries or boxes. The capacity is 1,925.
The Festspielhaus features a double proscenium
A proscenium theatre is a theatre space whose primary feature is a large frame or arch , which is located at or near the front of the stage...
, which gives the audience the illusion that the stage is further away than it actually is. The double proscenium and the recessed orchestra pit create — in Wagner's term — a "mystic gulf" between the audience and the stage. This gives a dreamlike character to performances, and provides a physical reinforcement of the mythic content of most of Wagner's operas.
The first foundation stone for the Festpielhaus was laid on May 22, 1872, which was Wagner’s 59th birthday.
The building’s grand opening was for the premiere of the complete opera The Ring of the Nibelung which would run for four days from August 13-17, 1876. The architecture of Festpielhaus accomplished many of Wagner’s goals and ideals for the performances of his operas including an improvement on the sound, feel, and overall look of the production.
The Festpielhaus was originally planned to open in 1873, but by that time Wagner had barely raised enough money to put up the walls of his theatre. He began to raise money by traveling and putting on concerts in various cities and countries throughout Europe. Even after Ludwig began funding the project, Wagner had to continue putting on concerts to keep the building project financially afloat. The tours were very taxing on Wagner’s health and would eventually be a key element to his death later on in 1883.
A significant feature of the Festspielhaus is its unusual orchestra pit
An orchestra pit is the area in a theater in which musicians perform. Orchestral pits are utilized in forms of theatre that require music or in cases when incidental music is required...
. It is recessed under the stage and covered by a hood, so that the orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...
is completely invisible to the audience. This feature was a central preoccupation for Wagner, since it made the audience concentrate on the drama onstage, rather than the distracting motion of the conductor
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...
A musician is an artist who plays a musical instrument. It may or may not be the person's profession. Musicians can be classified by their roles in performing music and writing music.Also....* A person who makes music a profession....
s. The design also corrected the balance of volume between singers and orchestra, creating ideal acoustics for Wagner's operas, which are the only operas performed at the Festspielhaus. However, this arrangement has also made it the most challenging to conduct in, even for the world's best conductors. Not only is the crowded pit enveloped in darkness, but the acoustic reverberation makes it difficult to synchronise the orchestra with the singers. Conductors must therefore retrain themselves to ignore cues from singers.
The orchestra layout deployed at Bayreuth is unusual in three ways:
- The first violins are positioned on the right-hand side of the conductor instead of their usual place on the left side. This is in all likelihood because of the way the sound is intended to be directed towards the stage rather than directly on the audience. This way the sound has a more direct line from the first violins to the back of the stage where it can be then reflected to the audience.
- Double basses, cellos and harps (when more than one used, e.g. Ring) are split into groups and placed on either side of the pit
- The rest of the orchestra is located directly under the stage. This makes communication with the conductor vital as most of the players are unable to see or hear the singers, but creates the huge, rich sounds Wagner sought to compose.
The Festspielhaus remains the venue of the annual Bayreuth Festival, during which Wagner's later operas, such as the Ring
cycle and Parsifal
Parsifal is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner. It is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, the 13th century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival and his quest for the Holy Grail, and on Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail.Wagner first conceived the work...
, are given on a repertory basis.