Do's and don'ts of Bayreuth's Wagner Fest
The opera house in Bayreuth on July 25. The legendary Bayreuth Festival, where audiences frequently have to wait 10 years or more for a ticket, has strict rules of etiquette that set it apart from other music festivals.
Here are some of the do's and don'ts to observe so as not to embarrass yourself on your first visit to the world-famous Festspielhaus theatre on Wagner's fabled Green Hill.
-- Swot up on the operas in advance.
People who attend this month-long festival know their Wagner inside-out and do not need to be told what is going on on stage.
The programmes never contain a summary of the plot and there are no surtitles.
If you don't know the stories, you can always sneak off to read up at the bookstore next to the theatre.
By contrast, it is socially acceptable -- or even 'de rigueur' -- to attend one of the introductory talks held on the day of each performance.
The festival itself offers a low-down of each production being presented in a particular season.
But the real place to be seen are the lectures by Stefan Mickisch, a concert pianist who explores the musical structures and harmonies of each opera.
His lectures have developed such a cult following over the years that they're regularly sold out and attended even by people who haven't got a ticket for the Festspielhaus that evening.
-- Never dress down.
Earlier, the door attendants would not let you in if you were not wearing evening dress. Nowadays, such dress codes are impossible to impose. But if you wear anything less than a tuxedo or a ball-gown -- even in the sweltering heat -- you will have to suffer looks of contempt from the other guests.
You'll have ample opportunity to show off your best frock, anyway, as you mingle among the rich and famous in the hour-long intervals.
-- Cool off at the Kneippanlage.
The Festspielhaus has no air-conditioning. One way of cooling off during the intervals is to wander over to the open-air pool at the Buergerreuth up behind the theatre, take your shoes off and paddle in the Kneippanlage, named after a 19th century Bavarian priest who believed in the healing power of water or hydrotherapy.
-- Don't be late.
Because Bayreuth is as much a place to be seen as a place to hear music, guests start arriving at the Festspielhaus anywhere up to 90 minutes before the curtain goes up. There is no entry for latecomers. But 15 minutes before each act begins, trumpeters on the royal porch sound a fanfare comprising a short key phrase of music from the upcoming act. It is repeated again at 10 and five minutes before the curtain rises and many guests assemble in front of the porch especially to hear the fanfare.
-- Bring a cushion.
The seats in the Festspielhaus are unflinchingly hard and wooden, apparently because padding would ruin the theatre's legendary acoustics. An extra cushion eases the discomfort of sitting on them for six hours or more.
-- Leave your car behind.
There is lots of parking behind the theatre. But to avoid traffic jams before and after the performances, walk up the hill on foot. It's fairly steep, but there can be something meditative about the slow march up to Wagner's Holy of Holies. And afterwards, pedestrians are frequently back in town for dinner much more quickly than those guests who come by car.