Bayreuth Festival opens with new generation of Wagners at helm

Half-sisters take over from their father, after protracted battle to end his directorship

Two new Wagners are in charge as the annual Bayreuth Festival opens this weekend, with composer Richard Wagner's great-granddaughter saying that she hopes to help bring "opera to the people".

Half-sisters Katharina Wagner, 31, and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 64, were named as co-directors in September – becoming the first new management team in more than half a century, after their 89-year-old father, Wolfgang, agreed to end his long reign.

With performers booked years in advance, the 2009 event has no big surprises. The festival opens on Saturday with Christoph Marthaler's staging of Tristan and Isolde and runs until 28 August. However, the new team has innovations on the sidelines – for example, a version of The Flying Dutchman for children, reduced to an hour, whose 10 performances have long since sold out.

Following its first live internet broadcast in 2008, a move championed by Katharina Wagner, this year's festival will broadcast Tristan and Isolde live on the web on 9 August, with prices to view it on screen cut from last year's steep €49 to €14.90 (£12.90).

The same performance will also be screened live – and for free – in a central square in the city of Bayreuth, in northern Bavaria. "It is a matter of the heart for me to bring opera to the people," Katharina said at a press conference in Munich on Monday. "Opera is a niche product. I am working with my heart and soul on this product."

She added that Marthaler's Tristan and Isolde would lend itself well to the webcast and screening. "He is a master when it comes to staging boredom, standstill and desperation," she said.

At the Richard Wagner-designed Festspielhaus itself, there will be pre-performance talks by experts Katharina hopes will promote a "better understanding" of the works. The organisers are also introducing slimmed-down programmes in place of the unwieldy €28 volumes offered in recent years.

Wagner fans typically wait up to 10 years to obtain tickets for the festival. This year's schedule includes Katharina's own staging of Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg, now in its third year, Tankred Dorst's Der Ring des Nibelungen and Stefan Herheim's Parsifal.

The half-sisters' appointment ended a years-long battle in which their father, who had a lifetime contract, resisted efforts to push him out. He agreed to step aside after last year's festival; Katharina and Eva then teamed up to beat a rival bid from their cousin, Nike Wagner.

The winning team offered a combination of youth and the steady hand of experience. Wagner-Pasquier's CV includes years as an artistic consultant at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

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