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Curtain rises on Bayreuth Opera Festival

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Bayreuth, Germany (dpa) - One of the world's great cultural events got under way Tuesday with the opening of the Richard Wagner opera festival in the southern German town of Bayreuth.

Dressed in dinner jackets and an array of eye-catching gowns, opera-goers began arriving early for a pre-performance stroll around the festival hall, indulging in traditional Bavarian fare of sausages washed down with beer and champagne.

Now in its 95th year, the Bayreuth festival began with Claus Guth's staging of The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Hollaender) under the musical direction of Marc Albrecht.

But the highlight will be a new production of Wagner's four-opera epic Der Ring der Nibelungen, which is being staged by dramatist Tankred Dorst.

Dorst, 80, is said to have come up with a radically new production of Das Rheingold, Die Walkuere, Siegfried and Gotterdaemmerung in what will be his operatic debut.

No details of the new Ring cycle have been leaked to the public aside from Dorst's own comment that "the fairytale should be told without any major reference to today's events."

However, organizers will be hoping the new Ring will help the festival leave behind the very public Wagner family feud over the shape of future festivals and criticism of recent opera stagings.

First performed by Richard Wagner himself in 1876, the 15-hour tetralogy will be staged in the opera house built to Wagner's specifications for the premiere of The Ring 130 years ago.

It is the only new production at this year's festival, tickets for which have been sold out for eight years. Parsifal and Tristan and Isolde fill out the bill.

Those lucky enough to have booked tickets will see the curtain rise Wednesday on Dorst's production under the baton of Christian Thielemann. The complete cycle will be performed three times before the festival ends on August 28.

Making their Bayreuth debuts are Falk Struckmann as Wotan and Linda Watson as Brunnhilde. Stephen Gould is singing Siegfried for the first time in his career.

The Tristan being performed this year is the tried-and-trusted production by renowned German stage director Christoph Marthaler conducted by Peter Schneider.

The Parsifal on view will be the highly controversial post- modernist staging by enfant terrible Christoph Schlingensief that shocked Bayreuth head Wolfgang Wagner when it premiered two summers ago. A new Parsifal is planned for 2008.

An innovation this year will be an open-air "Ring in the Evening" series of chamber ensemble performances featuring 12 musicians and eight singers.

That series is the highlight of the ubiquitous round of concerts, readings, lectures and exhibits that always accompany the main event at what opera lovers like to call "the big house on the Green Hill."

Copyright 2006 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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