New Yorkers of a certain age remember a front page headline of the New York Daily News when the federal government refused to “bail out” New York City, which was on the brink of default: “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD!” Well, that’s sort of what has happened with the Bayreuth Festival and the loyal Wagner Societies around the world.
The Wagner Society of New York has been affiliated with the Bayreuth Festival since 1984, and since 1985 has offered the Gesellschaft der Freunde von Bayreuth financial contributions from the Society’s very popular English-language lectures during the Festival. Along with other Wagner Societies (138 Wagner Societies around the world are members of the Richard Wagner Verband International), the New York Society has received a modest allocation of tickets to the Festival every year, for purchase by its members. Well, Nicht mehr!
By letter dated 15 December, 2011, the co-directors of the Festival have informed all Wagner Societies that “it is unfortunately no longer possible to accord special interest groups [sic] or tour operators any privileges in the allocation of tickets.” So all of the various Societies around the world who have loyally supported the Festival in good times and bad are now out in the cold. Indeed they may not even apply for tickets; only individuals can join the queue.
As was noted in an earlier post, there has been some concern expressed that, with the “bespoke” allocations granted to the various Wagner Societies, the labor unions, the politicians, the corporate sponsors, the Friends of Bayreuth, and others, fewer than half of the seats each summer were actually available for purchase by the public. This did not sit well with (among others) the German government, which was using general taxpayer revenues to subsidize the Festival’s expenses. Paying for the partial price of a ticket bought at the box office is one thing; paying for the partial price of a ticket available only to Siemens is something else. And the Wagner Sisters seem to acknowledge as much in their recent letter announcing the change in policy:
The modifications to ticket allocation procedure have been made following investigations conducted by the Bavarian General Accounting Office and the German Federal Court of Auditors, which are responsible for the Bayreuth Festival. The reports criticized certain measures in ticket allocation and proposed clear conditions to bring about tangible and lasting changes in order to introduce greater fairness in the allocation of tickets and excluding as far as possible the preferential treatment of certain groups or individuals and to improve transparency.
The decision to withold the allocations to the Wagner Societies was made at a meeting of the Festival’s Supervisory Board on 18 October, but apparently not relayed to the Festival’s supporters for two months, and then only by letter. The Wagner Sisters must have learned their relationship skills from their great-grandfather.
I have been a member of the Wagner Society of London since 1975, and of the Wagner Society of New York since the mid-1980s. Each has offered members the opportunity to purchase tickets to the Festival each year, though I have never availed myself of the chance. This year I applied, through New York. And look what happened!
Remind me never to book a transatlantic ocean liner in April!