Bayreuth: And Then There Was One

Janos Gereben on February 25, 2014
Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier in Bayreuth, 2009
Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier in Bayreuth, 2009

Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 68, great grand-daughter of Richard Wagner, will retire as co-director of the Bayreuth Festival next year. She currently runs the festival in uneasy collaboration with her much younger half-sister, Katharina Wagner, 36.

They were originally appointed in 2008, taking over from their father Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010), and their contracts are scheduled to expire in September 2015, but Wagner-Pasquier says she will not have her contract extended. Nordbayerischer Kurier quotes her as saying: "I've asked the stakeholders to involve me as an advisor." She did not give any reasons why she no longer wanted to run the festival, the newspaper said.

Various websites and German publications have a field day speculating on what's going on behind the scenes. As Wagner-Pasquier would turn 70 at the time of contract renewal, it's possible that she just wants to retire — mostly, but not completely.

Wagner-Pasquier — married to the film producer Yves Pasquier — has had a storied career. In 1967 she became the personal assistant of her father, and was responsible for the casting in Patrice Chéreau's production of the Ring cycle in 1976. Outside the festival season, she assisted August Everding in London (Salome) and Otto Schenk at the Vienna State Opera (Don Carlos). In 1972 she joined the artistic management staff of the Vienna State Opera.

From 1973 to 1984 Wagner-Pasquier was an executive at Unitel Films in Munich where she oversaw more than 35 opera productions. From 1984 to 1987 she worked as an opera director at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London, and from 1989 to 1993 she was director of programming at the newly founded Opéra Bastille in Paris.

From 1993 to 1995 she was an artistic consultant at Houston Grand Opera, after which she worked in the same capacity at the Théatre du Châtelet in Paris from 1994 to 1998 as well as the new Teatro Real in Madrid with Stéphane Lissner from 1996 to 1997. Since 1996 Wagner-Pasquier has been senior artistic consultant to the New York Metropolitan Opera, and until 2009 artistic adviser of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence and of the Académie européenne which is attached to the festival. She has been honored with the top order of France's Legion of Honor.

In Houston, it was David Gockley, then general director of the company, who engaged Wagner-Pasquier. Asked on Tuesday about developments in Bayreuth, Gockley — general director of the San Francisco Opera since 2006 — said:

Eva is a delightful, spirited person who has held down casting director jobs at the ROH, Paris Opera and Aix-en-Provence. She had to be leaned on heavily to take the Bayreuth co-directorship, and finally accepted to keep it (the directorship) in the family. When I saw her in July she looked exhausted. The quality of the singing and conducting improved markedly during her time. The production decisions, spearheaded by her half-sister, were less successful.

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