An Abu Dhabi Classics treat with Wagner's Valkyrie
By David Light
Published: Tue 29 Jan 2019, 1:20 PM
Last updated: Sun 3 Feb 2019, 8:56 AM
WHEN A CLASSICAL piece plays over the stereo and you attempt to name the master behind it, a few candidates will always inundate your mind almost involuntarily. Often from childhood, composers including Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky are discussed and their music played to such an extent they become part of the public consciousness and their names almost mythological. Synonymous with timeless genius, you can forget these were actual artists who wrote for a living, had families and must have enjoyed many of the same pursuits in which we all partake outside of work. It isn't until you have the opportunity to meet a descendant of these 'ethereal beings', a classical musician's legend suddenly becomes tangible. And when that progeny continues the family trade, it is even more pleasing.
Katharina Wagner is the great granddaughter of opera maestro Richard Wagner. Arguably best known for The Valkyrie (Der Walkure), after tremendous success in the mid-1800s Wagner moved to Bayreuth, Germany, with a view to build his own opera house in which he would put on his works. These performances of his pieces would become known as the Bayreuth Festival, which continues to this day with Katharina at the helm as director. As part of Abu Dhabi Classics, on Wednesday, January 30 and Friday, February 1 from 6pm (on both evenings) at Emirates Palace, the Bayreuth Festival will perform The Valkyrie in the capital. We spoke to the director to find out more.
What are peoples' first reactions like when you tell them you are related to Richard Wagner and are involved in music, specifically becoming a guardian of his work with the Bayreuth Festival?
Usually I don't tell them, but if they find out they are surprised that there are still people who are relatives of Richard Wagner. And they like the idea that an ancestor is still running the festival.
What was it like growing up in such a famous and musically renowned family? Do you have a favourite work of your ancestor's?
I was never pressured to follow the tradition, but I love to do it completely voluntarily. Music is my life and even though it's difficult to answer the question, because I'm so familiar with them all, I like Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal very much.
What do you think the performance of The Valkyrie will offer UAE audiences? Why do you believe classical music and opera remains so relevant today?
The audience will experience one of the most outstanding Wagner orchestras and world-class singers, accompanied by a thrilling movie. Most of the pieces of classical music are related to timeless topics like love, greed, hate and so on and that's the reason why they are still relevant because these topics will always accompany mankind.
Given its popularity, what are the biggest challenges for you taking care of the Bayreuth Festival? Do you ever have to innovate or do people expect the same type of event every time?
Of course we have to go on with developing the festival. Especially because we are only playing Wagner, our challenge is always to find new and pioneering interpretations of the work of my great grandfather.
Which contemporary music inspires you? Which artists in the world of opera today do you like to listen to and why?
A lot of contemporary music is inspiring me. In a way, many of the musical innovations of the 20th century were initiated by Richard Wagner's music, so of course I listen to it with a lot of interest. From the composers' side, I really admire, among many others, the music of Wolfgang Rihm. From the soloist side, I am a great fan of Martha Argerich. On the piano, she was a revolutionary in her time and opened many avenues for women in the field of music.
The Bayreuth Festival is home to the Wagner operas, and is incredibly popular. Productions receive over 500,000 ticket requests each year with only 60,000 tickets available and there is a waiting list of up 10 years. As a result, the Bayreuth Festival performances at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, on January 30 and February 1 will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There will be a cast of over 100 - so it's going to be rather epic!
Tickets for this spectacular production are available to purchase at www.ticketmaster.ae and in all Virgin Megastores across the UAE. Emirates Palace doors open at 6pm on both evenings.