Leonard Taylor, UK • If you don’t go this year you never will. This was the answer when I asked a colleague at the office where I worked as lawyer, whether I should go to Bayreuth for the Festival. Until then my only experience of Wagner was a performance of Tannhauser at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. I am sure that, as an admirer of the plays of William Shakespeare, Richard Wagner would have approved of his works being performed in Shakespeare’s home town. After further consideration, I booked to come to Bayreuth with a travel company which specialised in travel for the arts for a performance of the Wieland Wagner Ring which had been a new production the previous year.
I had become attracted to Wagner’s music after listening to a performance of Tristan und Isolde on the radio. The part of Isolde was sung by Kirsten Flagstad. As a result of this I became a great admirer of Flagstad and when my daughter was born, I named her Kirsten. I greatly regret that I never saw Flagstad in the theatre.
On 22nd August, I flew from London to Nuremberg via Frankfurt and after a short coach journey arrived in Bayreuth. My first impression of the town was that the street signs were connected with Wagner- Tristan Strasse Meistersinger Strasse and Richard Wagner Strasse.
After checking in at my hotel, the Goldener Hirsch, I went for a walk with a friend that I had met during the journey from London. We came to an openair cafe where we hoped to sample the local beer. I said to the waitress „Zwei grosse Biere, bitte “ To which she replied „this is a milk bar. We don’t serve beer.“
On Tuesday 23rd August the big day arrived, my first performance at Bayreuth. The morning was spent in the park at the rear of Wahnfried. We visited the grave of Richard and Cosima which we found very moving together with grave of Wagner’s dog.
The afternoon was spent at rest and at getting ready for the performance of Das Rheingold which began at 6 30 pm. After the 2nd fanfare, I took my seat in the Festspielhaus and in due course the lights went down and the music began. After 54 years, I still vividly recall Alberich sung by Gustav Neidlinger stumbling around tormented by the Rheinmaidens.
During the remainder of our stay, we visited the Wagner Museum which was then lodged in the Neues Schloss and on one evening when there was no performance in the Festspielhaus, we went to a recital in the Margrave’s opera given by Hannelore Kuhse who sang the Wesendonck Lieder. Present at this concert was Winifred Wagner.
After Rheingold came Walkure with a spectacular assumption of the role of Sieglinde by Gwyneth Jones. My chief memory of Siegfried was the beautiful set created by Wieland for the forest in Act 2. Götterdammerung was notable for the outstanding performances of three veterans of Bayreuth, Astrid Varnay, Brunnhilde, Marta Model, Waltraute, and Wolfgang Windgassen,Siegfried. The Brunnhilde -Waltraute scene was dramatically overwhelming and Siegfried’s encounter with the Rheinmaidens was equally impressive.
The next day we left Bayreuth and spent a few days in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I then returned home determined to return the following year which I did for performances of Parsifal, Lohengrin and Tannhauser. In 1968, following a performance of Tristan und Isolde with Bohm Nilsson and Windgassen, I decided to join the Friends of Bayreuth in 1969 and have been a member ever since.