Wagnerian Ticket Schwindle: Government Gives Bigshots All the Good Seats


You sank my battleship!

This Fourth of July, here's a reason to be glad that you live in a country without a culture ministry. Germany's Bayreuth Festival, the annual marathon performance of Richard Wagner's operas, is embroiled in scandal over how tickets get sold. Bloomberg's Catherine Hickley reports

The Federal Audit Office, or Bundesrechnungshof, said that 60 percent of tickets to the opera festival are pre-allotted to privileged groups, such as festival patrons, sponsors, local and regional government officials and musicians, according to Die Welt, which said it obtained a copy of the internal report.

The Bundesrechnungshof acknowledged the existence of the report though it declined to confirm details. Die Welt said the auditors recommended abolishing the special contingents, saying they "do not conform with the government's subsidy goals."

"Minister Bernd Neumann will ensure that the auditors' report is discussed in the responsible festival supervisory bodies," said a statement from his office sent by e-mail today. "Where appropriate, the practices will be corrected."

The Bayreuth Festival takes place every summer in the theater founded by the composer Richard Wagner in 1876. It is more than 60 percent privately funded, with the rest of the financing coming from the federal government, the Bavarian government and local authorities.

Members of the public can wait as long as 10 years for tickets and must reapply each year to remain in line. 

The Bayreuth Festival is always embroiled in some scandal or another, and the easiest answer to the ticket issue would seem to be that it wouldn't be a problem if the festival were a private enterprise. The shortage of tickets for the Bayreuth festival is the stuff of legend. (The ratio is generally described as 500,000 people waiting for about 60,000 tickets every year). 

This horse is going to have serious back trouble before the show is over.

Is that demand as great as advertised? A while back I read Brigitte Hamann's excellent biography of Winifred Wagner, the composer's granddaughter-in-law. (You have your bliss, I have mine.) Hamann very effectively described the economics of the festival, which has never really been a self-supporting event despite the apparently massive demand for tickets. The festival was established in 1876, largely through funding and assistance from Bavaria's King Ludwig.

During the 1930s, Hitler established himself as the world's greatest Wagner patron by having the Nazi party buy up huge blocks of unsold tickets (more than half in some years, as I recall) most of which ended up going unused in turn. (Even the Führer was known to hang out at the festival but skip most of the performances.) That patronage continued during the war, when wounded soldiers were given Bayreuth tickets and accommodations during recuperation (because what 18-year-old doesn't want to spend five hours watching fat people in breastplates sing?). 

Supposedly the festival bounced back in the postwar period, as Winifred's descendents added all manner of arty innovations. One of the sons, whose name escapes me, very shrewdly cast himself (despite abundant evidence to the contrary) as having been a left-leaning anti-Nazi all along, and got credit for modernizing the show. Has that translated into a series of hit productions? In its entry on Bayreuth tickets, Wikipedia recommends showing up ticketless on the day of a performance – "miracle-ing" as Deadheads used to call it – which suggests there may be more seats available than generally believed. 

In any event, it seems absurd that you'd need a government official to sort out ticket sales for enduring works of popular art that don't seem to have trouble satisfying an audience when they play anywhere else in the world. If the German government cut the subsidy and let Wagner fans pay full freight, the issue of all this pent-up demand would sort itself out in a hurry, which has got to be better than waiting ten years for a ticket to Siegfried. (And unless it's got Sybil Danning, I ain't interested.) 


NEXT: Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch in the Wall Street Journal on The Deal From Hell

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  1. You know who else was a huge Wagner fan? Oh, I see from your article that you do. Anyway, I heard back in the day they couldn’t give tickets to Jud S?? away.

    1. But they did have a homosexual Jew singing as tenor:

    2. Richard Wagner died in February 1883. Nietzsche never published anything that was overtly critical of Wagner while he lived; if he taunted Wagner critically, during the period from 1876 onward, if was subtly, by neglect. Wagner went entirely unmentioned in Human, All-too-Human, and Nietzsche warmly embraced the French and berated the Germans — all calculated to put Wagner in a rage. Nevertheless, Nietzsche kept extensive notes on Wagner and their relationship throughout this period. The Case of Wagner was the result of this material, a final outpouring of Nietzsche’s frustrations, dissappointments, anger and resentment. But it is also interesting that this work was Nietzsche’s last — completed in late 1888, only days before his complete mental collapse.

  2. Brunnhilde I can see but Siegfried? Also, that dudes outfit is scarier then his weapon. Dosen’t seem like it would br the proper climate for no pants. Although not as scary as Hungry Vagina (via Fark)…..rail-sale/

  3. Nice video.

    1. Go ahead and skip to the 40 second mark though.

      1. It looks like Game of Thrones is less inventive then i thought.

  4. The greatest American contribution to opera may be bringing big performances–live–to a theater near you. (We can only hope it may someday make up for our bringing superscript to, which is an affront to all things good and holy.)

    I don’t believe live broadcasting to theaters is done at Bayreuth–and I doubt it will ever be done so long as the government influence peddlers gets to divvy up the tickets…

    But if Bayreuth was an American capitalist venture? The performance would be broadcast live to theater screens all over Europe and North America.

    So why would they hurt their bottom line by limiting the paying customers to only those they can fit in the opera house?

    Controlling who does and doesn’t get a ticket is probably seen as a feature rather than a bug by the government and the rest.

    It’s amazing how influential it can be to have Superbowl tickets to give to clients–or to be able to take your clients to a Lakers game!

    Distributing tickets the capitalist way would destroy their power to decide who does and doesn’t get those few tickets. And why would the leeches want to do that?

    1. I’ve never been to one of those movie theater simulcasts. Are they any good? It seems like stage performances would lose roughly 100% of their impact when you watch them on a screen.

      1. It seems like stage performances would lose roughly 100% of their impact when you watch them on a screen



      2. It’s not as good as being there, but it’s better than watching it at home on DVD.

        It’s live, and it feels live. You’re seeing it on a much bigger and better screen than you’d see at home, and the sound system is vastly superior to what most people experience at home too. (Audiophiles with a decent set of cans would take issue with that.)

        You’re also getting a much better view than you’d get at a live performance.

        Also, the audience isn’t like going to see Transformers on a Friday night either. It’s like an art house audience–people aren’t talking behind you.

        And that sort of movie theater distribution model is tailored for an event like the Bayreuth Festival. There’s no question that more people would would see the production–if they used the same distribution model the Met and La Scala use.

        I read that the Met sold more than 300,000 movie tickets to one production of “Carmen”.

        if they only allowed it to be in movie theaters live or for a very short time (they can keep selling DVDs), it would be like the opera Superbowl.

        The best teams come together and play the same game–but only once a year!

        You can watch a simulcast on your computer–but that’s nowhere near the movie theater experience.

        That’s cheapening your product–letting people watch it on tiny computer screens with crappy computer speakers. Vince McMahon might do a better job of promoting Bayreuth, and there’s no good reason why they aren’t using a distribution model that so many opera lovers are already plugged into–in the movie theaters.

    2. The live broadcasting has done at important sports events when demand was high, such as the World Cup, and seemed to work fine there. I am sure it could be done for Bayreuth.

      I agree that there likely is some local government power grab involved there – the state of Bavaria has been governed by the same part for 60 years, a party commonly associated with “Amigo” scandals.

  5. Kill the wabbit… Kill the wabbit!

    That’s the extent of my Wagnerian cultural acumen.

    1. One wonders why Tim did not use that youtube video

      The music is much better then i remember it.

      1. The music in that like all Warner Brothers Cartoons was brilliant. The Barber of Seville is of course the other classic.

  6. because what 18-year-old doesn’t want to spend five hours watching fat people in breastplates sing?
    LOL, and what 18year-old wants to go to a museum? There is paint on his walls at home. 😉

    1. i’ve got culture in my yogurt, pffft.

  7. It took a long time for Die Welt to figure out the corrupt government practice.

  8. Perhaps one day the Europeans will stumble onto the idea of letting individuals decide how much they are willing to pay. Then, they could hold some sort of competitive bidding event, with tickets (or blocks of tickets) being offered until all have been sold.

  9. That’s government for you. The private sector never favors big shots over the little guy. Well, maybe with salaries and bonuses, but money isn’t everything. The little guy has the same leagl right to own a private jet as the big shot. The same goes for good seats. And that’s the kind of freedom that really counts.

    1. Arf! Arf! Arf! Arf!

  10. I never really even thought about it liek that before. Makes perfect sense dude.

    1. We don’t expect much from you anon-bot. Except spelling.

  11. And the govt doesn’t even have the excuse that the operas are being run by an insane king.

    1. It doesn’t?

  12. MR wagner would be very surprised
    Check THIS out whether you agree or disagree

  13. See, when I saw a thread on Wagner (Vahhhgnuh, don’t you know?) and the Bayreuth Festival, I was all ready with a “You know who else liked Wagner and tried to buy up all the tickets to the Bayreuth Festival?” and what do you know, you already did it right in the original post.

    [Shakes fist!!!] Damn you Cavanaugh, damn you to hell!!!

  14. “They’re gonna play music!”
    “Yeah, I like to use Wagner. It scares the shit out of the dinks!”

  15. Somehow, I can’t get upset over who gets what seats at any performance of Wagner’s music. Bach is a different story.


  16. I see they’ve stopped telling you that your comment is spam, and just silently refuse to post it.

    I wonder what they do to real spammers?

    1. They let their messages go through.

  17. It might help if you had reported this correctly and had an understanding of USA Federal and State arts funding. The Tickets at Bayreuth are not distributed by the government – it is the Bayreuth Festival management – ie the Wagners that decide who gets the tickets. The federal government simply provides part of the festivals funding. The report is the first by federal “bean counters” who had no idea what was going on – and have now set-out to change it.

    Opera houses in the USA are not commercially successful. They rely on private sponsorship and grants and also money from the Federal and local state Arts budget. Even the MET gets government money – without which it would struggle to survive. There is simply not enough money in ticket sales to cover the overheads of the Ring Cycle for example. This is how it has always been. The only difference between the USA and Germany is that the German government provides much more funding. You surely have heard of the The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). It gave out US$155 million to arts projects in 2009 alone

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