The town of Bayreuth in Bavaria is synonymous with Richard Wagner and since 1876 its annual festival, which opens next Sunday, has been devoted to the performance of his operas.

The Wagner family is still deeply involved: the composer's grandson Wolfgang, now 84, is artistic director. The tribulations of the festival and the Wagner family, its compromised Nazi past and the uncertainties about its future, have made it the leading cultural soap opera of post-war Germany. Only last month a crisis over a new production of Parsifal made headlines across Europe.

For devotees - the depth and power of his music can inspire near-obsession among some - a visit to this shrine is essential. Unfortunately, although tickets are comparatively cheap - top price €192.50 (£130) this year - they are extremely hard to obtain.

The first thing to do is to get a booking form, not later than the middle of September, from the following address: Bayreuther Festspiele Kartenbüro Postfach 10 02 62 D-95402 Bayreuth Germany. You must complete and return it before the closing date (usually mid-October). You won't get tickets, but you will get a "negative" registered in the box office computer. You must repeat this process each year until you have enough "negatives" to qualify for tickets. The current waiting list seems to be about eight years. The reason is simple. In any season there are no more than 60,000 tickets. Some are allocated to the Wagner Societies, and a few go to tour operators. The remainder are sold via the box office, which gets about 600,000 applications each year.

Secondly, you should join your local Wagner Society (for addresses visit Each society gets a small allocation.

If you're really desperate, you can go to Bayreuth during the festival and queue at the box office from early morning (with your evening wear in a bag, just in case) because, sometimes, miraculously, returned tickets appear. If not, you can sit in front of the Festspielhaus, holding up a sign that says "Suche Karte" with a sad look on your face.

If money is really no problem, try to find a package tour that includes a ticket - see magazines such as Opera. Or buy a ticket on the black market - recent searches turned up a ticket to this year's Parsifal for $1,800 (£1,200). However, the attitude of the festival has hardened towards touts and anyone who pays more for a ticket than its face value. The festival regards such tickets as void and their holders, if identified, have in the past been forcibly ejected from the Festspielhaus.

With thanks to the FAQ of the newsgroup, an important online source of Wagner information