Bayreuth canon

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A couple is shown. On the left is a tall woman of about 30. She wears a voluminous dress and is sitting sideways in an upright chair, facing and looking up into the eyes of the man who is on the right. He is about 60, quite short, balding at the temples. He is dressed in a suit with tailcoat and wears a cravat. He faces and looks down at the woman. His hand rests on the back of the chair.
Richard Wagner and his second wife Cosima, who established the Bayreuth canon

The Bayreuth canon consists of those operas by the German composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) that have been performed at the Bayreuth Festival.[1] The festival, which is dedicated to the staging of these works, was founded by Wagner in 1876 in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth, and has continued under the directorship of his family since his death. Although it was not originally held annually, it has taken place in July and August every year since the 75th anniversary season in 1951. Its venue is the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which was built for the first festival.[2] Attendance at the festival is often thought of as a pilgrimage made by Wagner aficionados.[3]


The components of the canon are as follows:[4]

Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung
These are the four parts of Der Ring des Nibelungen. The Bayreuth Festival was created for the first complete staging of the Ring in 1876.[2] The Ring was next staged in Bayreuth in 1896, the only other season when the cycle has been performed there unaccompanied by other operas. Since then, it has appeared during most seasons.[5]
A building interior with many ornate arches. An altar under a dome is almost encircled by a table and a bench.
Paul von Joukowsky's design for the Grail scene for the original 1882 production of Parsifal
This work was first performed at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882.[4] The degree to which Parsifal is associated with one venue, the Festspielhaus, makes it unique among major theatrical works.[6] Wagner dubbed the opera a Bühnenweihfestspiel, which opera director Mike Ashman translates as a "festival work to consecrate a stage". Ashman explains this as meaning that it was intended to secure the financial future of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus and allow the composer's heirs to continue running the festival profitably.[7] Parsifal was staged nowhere else until 1903 when the Metropolitan Opera in New York broke the embargo placed on theatrical performances outside Bayreuth by Wagner and his widow Cosima.[8]
Parsifal far exceeds the other members of the canon in the number of performances it has received at Bayreuth. It is the only work to have had three festival seasons (1882, 1883 and 1884) dedicated solely to its staging,[5] and was performed every season from 1882 until the start of World War II, with the exception of 1896 when Cosima first revived the Ring.[9] Most of these performances were of the original production, which received 205 performances before a new staging was introduced in 1934.[10][11] Another production – the influential one by the composer's grandson Wieland – was staged every year from 1951, when Bayreuth reopened after the war, until 1973, accumulating 101 performances.[12][13][14]
Der Fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Cosima introduced these five works from 1886 onwards, after she started running the festival on a continuing basis.[15][16] In introducing these, she fulfilled her dead husband's wishes[17] but over an extended timescale.[18] Meistersinger is the only work in the canon, apart from Parsifal and the Ring cycle, to have had whole festival seasons, those of 1943 and 1944, devoted solely to it.[5]

The canon as a whole[edit]

Together, these make up the last ten of the thirteen operas that Wagner completed. He rejected the first three, Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi, as apprentice works.[19][20] Although these have been staged elsewhere (and Rienzi was very popular into the early 20th century),[21] the works in the canon exceed them, both in the number of performances given[22] and in the number of available recordings.[23] The term Bayreuth canon is therefore sometimes glossed as meaning the composer's mature operas.[24] Georg Solti was the first conductor to complete studio recordings of all the works in the canon, starting in 1958 with Das Rheingold and finishing in 1986 with Lohengrin.[24]

Performances at Bayreuth[edit]

As of the completion of the 2012 festival, 2532[25] performances have been given at the Bayreuth Festival of the operas in the canon, distributed as in the following table.

symbol and colour meaning
Ring opera
Introduced by Richard Wagner
* Introduced by Cosima Wagner
Opera Completed Première Bayreuth première Most recent Bayreuth season
(to 2012)[26]
Total Bayreuth performances
(to 2012)[26]
Das Rheingold
(The Rhinegold)
22 September 1869[28]
13 August 1876[29]
Die Walküre
(The Valkyrie)
26 June 1870[30]
14 August 1876[5][29]
16 August 1876[31] 16 August 1876[31]
(The Twilight of the Gods)
17 August 1876[32] 17 August 1876[32]
26 July 1882[34] 26 July 1882[34]
Tristan und Isolde
(Tristan and Isolde)
10 June 1865[36]
25 July 1886*[5][37]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
(The Mastersingers of Nuremberg)
21 June 1868[39]
23 July 1888*[5][40]
19 October 1845[43]
22 August 1891*[5][44]
28 August 1850[46]
20 July 1894*[5][47]
Der Fliegende Holländer
(The Flying Dutchman)
2 January 1843[50]
22 July 1901*[5][51]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ For examples of its usage, see Carnegy (2006) p.143 or Best (2005) p.102.
  2. ^ a b Sabor (1997) p.166.
  3. ^ see Twain (1891) and Laurson (2008) for examples of this comparison.
  4. ^ a b Gurewitsch (1999).
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bayreuther Festspiele (2012).
  6. ^ Beckett (1981) p.87.
  7. ^ Ashman (1986) p.7.
  8. ^ Beckett (1981) pp.92–94.
  9. ^ Beckett (1981) p.93.
  10. ^ Syer (2005) p.283.
  11. ^ Beckett (1981) p.97.
  12. ^ Beckett (1981) pp.87, 99.
  13. ^ Syer (2005) p.305.
  14. ^ Number calculated from Bayreuther Festspiele (2012).
  15. ^ Carnegy (2006) pp.139, 143.
  16. ^ Griffiths (2004).
  17. ^ Skelton (2002).
  18. ^ See The New York Times (1879) where plans are announced to stage all these operas in Bayreuth by 1887.
  19. ^ Loomis (2008).
  20. ^ Laurson (2008).
  21. ^ Palmer (2005).
  22. ^ Morgan (2005).
  23. ^ As of 27 December 2009 The Operaclass website lists recordings numbered in single figures for each of the three early operas and in the thirties or higher for each of the later ones.
  24. ^ a b Greenfield (1987).
  25. ^ Bayreuther Festspiele (2012). The total given there of 2445 performances includes 13 non-operatic concerts.
  26. ^ a b All details in these columns are sourced from Bayreuther Festspiele (2012).
  27. ^ a b c d Cooke (1979) p.132.
  28. ^ John (1985) p.43.
  29. ^ a b Wagner 1978 p.918.
  30. ^ John (1983b) p.53.
  31. ^ a b John (1984) p.63.
  32. ^ a b John (1983c) p.63.
  33. ^ Headington et al. p.188.
  34. ^ a b John (1986) p.83.
  35. ^ Newman (1949, 1991) p.205.
  36. ^ John (1981) p.45.
  37. ^ Flyer for 1886 Bayreuth Festival, reproduced in Mack (1976) Plate 80.
  38. ^ Headington et al. (1991) p.184.
  39. ^ John (1983) p.41.
  40. ^ Flyer for 1888 Bayreuth Festival, reproduced in Mack (1976) Plate 88.
  41. ^ Newman (1949, 1991) p.66.
  42. ^ Wagner repeatedly revised Tannhäuser during the time between its first performance in Dresden in 1845 and its staging in Vienna in 1875 (Ashman, 1988 pp.7–8), but remained dissatisfied with its state even then, telling his wife "I still owe the world Tannhäuser" shortly before his death (Sutcliffe, 1992).
  43. ^ John (1988) p.57.
  44. ^ Flyer for 1891 Bayreuth Festival, reproduced in Mack (1976) Plate 94.
  45. ^ Newman (1949, 1991) p.155.
  46. ^ John (1993d) unnumbered title page.
  47. ^ Flyer for 1894 Bayreuth Festival, reproduced in Mack (1976) Plate 109.
  48. ^ Watson (1981) p.69.
  49. ^ Wagner revised Der Fliegende Holländer on several occasions, moving the setting from Scotland to Denmark before the opera was even staged and creating both three act and one act versions. He talked about making further changes as late as 1880 (Deathridge, 1982 pp.13, 25).
  50. ^ John (1988) p.49.
  51. ^ Flyer for 1901 Bayreuth Festival, reproduced in Mack (1976) Plate 164.


  • Ashman, Mike "A Very Human Epic" in John (1986) pp.7–14.
  • Ashman, Mike "Tannhäuser – an obsession" in John (1988) pp.7–15.
  • Bayreuther Festspiele (2012) "Die Aufführungen sortiert nach Festspielleitung". Statistics of performances at Bayreuth Festival sorted by festival director at official festival site. Version updated after 2012 festival. In German, accessed 27 August 2012.
  • Beckett, Lucy (1981) Richard Wagner: Parsifal, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-29662-5.
  • Best, Wallace Denino (2005) Passionately Human, No Less Divine:Religion and Culture in Black Chicago 1915–1952, Princeton NJ, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-11578-8.
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  • John, Nicholas (Series Editor) (1983c) English National Opera/The Royal Opera Opera Guide 31 The Twilight of the Gods/Götterdämmerung, London, John Calder, ISBN 0-7145-4063-3.
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  • John, Nicholas (Series Editor) (1985) English National Opera/The Royal Opera Opera Guide 35: The Rhinegold/Das Rheingold, London, John Calder, ISBN 0-7145-4078-1.
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  • John, Nicholas (Series Editor) (1988) English National Opera/The Royal Opera Opera Guide 39 Tannhäuser, London, John Calder, ISBN 0-7145-4147-8.
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  • The New York Times (1879) Untitled article, The New York Times, 23 December 1879, p.4, accessed 12 February 2010.
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  • Sutcliffe, James Helme "In Review: from around the world: Berlin" Opera News, June 1992 accessed 12 February 2010.
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  • Twain, Mark "Mark Twain at Bayreuth", Chicago Daily Tribune, 6 December 1891, accessed 12 February 2010.
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