Theatre Designer: Wieland Wagner (1917 - 1966)

Designs for Wagnerian Operas

2.  Parsifal 1937
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3.  Parsufal 1958
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4.  Parsifal Act 1
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5.   SIgefried
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6.   Meistersinger
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7.  Siegfried 1969
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8.  Tristan 1962
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Wieland Wagner
Craig
1.   Wieland Wagner (1917 - 1966)

Date: ca 1955
Photographer: Siegfried Lauterwasser, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele


2.    Parsifal, the Garden Scene (Act 2).  Wieland Wagner's design sketch.  In 1937 Wieland's traditional designs were substituted in the pre-war production at Bayreuth for earlier design by Emil. Preetorius
 
Date: 1937
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele


3.    Parsifal, Act 1, Richard Wagner.  Wieland Wagner's production at Bayreuth.

Date: 1958
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele    Reproduced in 1876 Bayreuth 1992, published by ©Bayreuther Festspiele GMBH 1991.


4.    Parsifal, Act 1, Richard Wagner.  Wieland Wagner's production at Bayreuth.

Date: 1971
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele    Reproduced in 1876 Bayreuth 1992, published by ©Bayreuther Festspiele GMBH 1991


5.    Siegfried, Act 2, The Ring of the Niebelungen, Richard Wagner.  Wieland Wagner's 1955 production at Bayreuth.

Date: 1955
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele  Reproduced in 1876 Bayreuth 1992, published by ©Bayreuther Festspiele GMBH 1991



6.    The Meistersinger of Nurnberg, Richard Wagner.  Wieland Wagner's 1955 production of 'Meistersinger without walls' staged at Bayreuth.

Date: 1956
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele  Reproduced in 1876 Bayreuth 1992, published by ©Bayreuther Festspiele GMBH 1991


7. Siegfried Act 2,  Wieland Wagner's production of Richard Wagner's Opera at Bayreuth

Date: 1969
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele  Reproduced in 1876 Bayreuth 1992, published by ©Bayreuther Festspiele GMBH 1991


8.  Tristan and Isolde, Act 1, Wieland Wagner's 1962 Production of Richard Wagner's Opera at Bayreuth.

Date: 1969
Photographer: Unknown, ©Bildarchiv Bayreuther Festspiele  Reproduced in 1876 Bayreuth 1992, published by ©Bayreuther Festspiele GMBH 1991





Wieland Wagner (1917 - 1966)

Wieland Wagner was the elder of two sons of Siegfried and Winifred Wagner, grandson of composer Richard Wagner, and great-grandson of composer Franz Liszt through Wieland's paternal grandmother.

In 1941, he married the dancer and choreographer Gertrud Reissinger. They had four children: Iris (b. 1942), Wolf Siegfried (b. 1943), Nike (b. 1945) and Daphne (b. 1946).   Later in his life, Wieland had a love affair with the much younger Anja Silja, one of the singers he had recruited for Bayreuth.  He died of lung cancer in October 1966.

Wieland Wagner is credited as an initiator of 'Regietheater' through ushering in a new modern style to Wagnerian opera as a stage director and designer, substituting a symbolic for a naturalist staging and focusing on the psychology of the drama.

Wieland began his directorial career before World War II, working on operas by his father and grandfather. His innovative approach did not become clear until after the war. His design for the 1937 Bayreuth production of Parsifal, for example, was conservative, though it did have film projections during the transformation scenes.

When the Bayreuth Festival reopened after the war in 1951, Wieland and his brother Wolfgang became festival directors in place of their mother, whose association with Adolf Hitler had made her unacceptable.

The revolutionary productions by Wieland, harking back to the simplicity of the Greek theatre, with the dependence on the chorus as a plastic body that helped move the action forward, evoked extreme views both for and against.  His long-lasting 1951 production of Parsifal included many features with which he later would be identified. Post-war austerity and his own interest - influenced by Adolphe Appia in lighting effects led to the use of round minimalist sets lit from above, a marked departure from the traditional frontal and side lighting that had developed with the baroque theatres of central Europe.

Wieland's first post-war Siegfried represented Fafner with a 30 ft statue of a dragon belching fire. In his later production of the opera he instead used pairs of giant eyes, which were picked out in turn from the back-projected forest, to suggest the movements of a huge creature stretching halfway down the Bayreuth hill.  Wieland's 1956 'Meistersinger without Nuremberg' was the symbolic culmination of his campaign to move away from naturalism in Wagner production with the medieval town represented by the cobbled shape of a street and, above the stage, a ball suggestive of a flowering tree.

Wieland's minimalism extended beyond the stage furniture and props. The performer of Gunther, for example, was expected to sing leaning forward in Act 1 of Götterdämmerung until he felt his authority challenged by Hagen and sat up straight. It is hard to imagine a greater contrast with traditional operatic acting.

Although Wieland is best remembered for productions of his grandfather's works at Bayreuth, he was often asked to work elsewhere in Germany and Europe. For example, he produced Tannhäuser and Der fliegende Holländer in Copenhagen, the Ring in Naples, Stuttgart and Cologne, and Beethoven's Fidelio in Stuttgart, London, Paris and Brussels.

Wieland's wife Gertrud collaborated with him to develop his interpretations of the operas and devise stage movement for the solo singers and chorus. Trained in modern dance, she is credited in the Bayreuth programs with choreography for Parsifal, Tannhäuser, and Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, but in fact she assisted him in all of his Bayreuth productions and many that he staged elsewhere, sometimes taking rehearsals on her own.

The great love of his life was the German soprano Anja Silja. Only twenty years old, she took over as Senta in 1960 in Bayreuth when Leonie Rysanek cancelled, and created a sensation. Blessed with a strong, agile, youthful and gleaming voice, and with an extraordinary talent for acting, she embodied Wieland's ideals. She sang Elsa in Lohengrin, Elisabeth and Venus in Tannhäuser and Eva in Meistersinger at Bayreuth. Elsewhere, he cast her as Isolde, Brünnhilde, Richard Strauss's Elektra, and Salome, and Alban Berg's Lulu and Marie in Wozzeck. She even sang Desdemona in Verdi's Otello in Wieland's production.

Note: Winifred Wagner's close friendship with Hitler meant that, as a teenager and young man, Wieland knew the dictator as 'Uncle Wolf' In 1938 he joined the Nazi Party on Hitler's personal insistence. From September 1944 to April 1945 he held a sinecure at the Institut für physikalische Forschung in Bayreuth, founded by his brother-in-law Bodo Lafferentz, which was a satellite of the Flossenbürg concentration camp devoted to research and development of an improved guidance system of the V-2 rocket bomb. This enabled him to avoid being called into the Wehrmacht for the final defence of Germany. At the Institut he built models of stage sets and developed new stage lighting systems with the assistance of prisoner Hans Imhof, an electrical technician. At his denazification hearing in Bayreuth, on December 10, 1948, he was classified as a 'Mitläufer' (follower), the fourth and lowest category, and fined DM100 plus the court costs.)

[Text based, in part, on Wagner Operas.com, published images and selected text from the 1992 Programme Booklet for the Bayreuth Festival and other material in the public domain.]

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