“Don’t mention nazi artists”

The bayreuth festival ends today – and the debate over an incident during the premiere cycle has just begun. Once again, it is a question of the press policy of the festspielhaus and the fact that festival director katharina wagner is simply not in a position to answer journalistic questions adequately, confidently and authoritatively. But one after the other.

The israeli journalist dalia shehori, who writes for the internationally renowned daily newspaper haaretz and whom i had the pleasure of meeting during the premiere, told me about a strange meeting she had with the director of the festival. Shehori”s extensive bayreuth feature is out on 22. August in hebrew and abridged in the english edition of her newspaper as well as online (although the translation was not agreed with her and is unfortunately not only faulty in the title block).

Under the intertitle "don’t mention nazi artists" she describes that she could not get an interview with the great-granddaughter of wagner, but at least she was supposed to meet her for half an hour during a break in the performance. Katharina wagner arrived twenty minutes late, leaving shehori with only ten minutes to spare. She turned on a recording device as a reminder and explained that she would not attribute any cleanup directly to her, but rather to festspielhaus sources in general. Due to the advanced time, she continued, she only wanted to directly address topics that are interesting for israelis, whereupon wagner nodded in agreement.

Your first sentence "I wanted to ask you about jonathan meese…"Shehori could not finish with the reference to meese’s hitler pit, because katharina wagner stood up abruptly and walked out of the room without a pit. Two members of the press office then came and said that they had already communicated before that this was not an interview. The journalist saw that katharina wagner might have wanted to come back, but press spokesman peter emmerich pushed her away.

After shehori explains to her readers who meese is, she concludes her article as follows: "it’s obvious", she writes, alluding to the swastika tattoo affair with evgeny nikitin "that it was the fear of a new scandal that triggered katharina wagner’s unacceptable reaction when she heard the name jonathan meeses from the mouth of an israeli journalist."

Of course, dalia shehori is aware that her article has severed her ties with the festival management. "But who wants to", write to me "in a place where the boss doesn’t know how to behave, and where the press officer does his best to prevent the flow of information. Not to mention radical directors like castorf and baumgarten, who only make you regret that you came at all (in my case, especially from israel)."

what does this story tell us? If a german politician were to stand up abruptly and walk away without a grubby face when an israeli journalist asked him an unpleasant question, that would be a political scandal of the first order and would undoubtedly have led to his resignation. Now katharina wagner is not a politician, but she is – together with her half-sister – the director of the world’s most important cultural institution in germany. One of the tasks of an artistic director of a theater that is also financed by public funds is to create publicity, give interviews and answer journalistic questions.

On night criticism.The article was linked in the press review and attracted quite a few people from the reserve, the journalist edwin baumgartner in the vienna newspaper commented among other things as follows: "geez, it’s really too stupid – just because you have hired someone as director for bayreuth 2016 who does the hitlergrub (and, as I said, means it in a completely different way), you are supposed to answer questions. And only because one comes from a family in which adolf hitler was the "uncle wolf" was. I believe meese that he is not a nazi, and I believe katharina wagner that she has nothing to do with her family’s brown past.

Nevertheless: if you hire a hitlergrubgruber as a wagner descendant, you should answer questions. Among other things, whether bayreuth, especially bayreuth, can really be the right place for a play with the nazi symbolism and whether this play can not also be understood by those who want it, as flag showing."

The fact that the festival directors are currently, if at all, happy to remain arrogantly silent, is of course due to the fact that they don’t want to do anything wrong now that the contract is supposedly about to be renewed. That is why the "new openness" exists not anymore, about which many a colleague was still raving in the first years of her intendancy (and which always concerned only katharina anyway, while half-sister eva only granted an interview to toni schmid, her intimate in the bavarian ministry of art, for his quarterly aviso).

Perhaps the highly embarrassing incident with the israeli journalist is finally an occasion for those responsible – both in the richard wagner foundation and in the board of directors of the festspiel-gmbh – to take stock of the financial, artistic, socio-political and organizational situation of the last five years. Maybe the politicians and the responsible officials in the federal and state governments, in the city of bayreuth and in various committees, as well as the representatives of the mazenatic society of the friends of bayreuth, will finally ask the question about the abilities of the festival directors. Can you do your job at all?

When you consider the negative balance of the two, when you see that every city theater and festival director is responsible for not just one, but several or even many new productions per season, and yet omits the majority of wagnerian missteps, mistakes and faux pas, there should really be no shortage of more suitable candidates for the post that will become vacant in 2015. The statutes of the richard wagner foundation expressly provide for such festival entrepreneurs who are not family members. For this, as grub-august a descendant with real wagner-genes. But please, not the niveaulose katharina wagner, who does not even know the simplest rules of etiquette, and also not eva wagner-pasquier, who avoids public appearances like the plague anyway.

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