Wagner Notes

2019 Richard-Wagner-Verband International Congress: Venice, Italy, November 28–December 1, 2019

The much anticipated RWVI 2019 Congress in Venice promised a number of unique events and special programs of great interest to Wagner enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, seasonal high tides, to which Venice is particularly vulnerable, struck on November 12 with the second highest tide in the city’s history. Flooding occurred in Ca’ Vendramin Calergi (the Congress venue) as well as Teatro La Fenice, Piazza San Marco, and other important city sites. Subsequent high tides occurred in succeeding days, which caused additional damage and hampered cleanup and repair efforts. Luckily, tide levels dropped enough that cleanup could begin, and the Congress began as scheduled with a special Concerto per Cosima at Teatro La Fenice on November 28. Those in attendance were not deterred by the remaining water in the streets and walkways, but many arrived wearing rubber boots which were exchanged for dress shoes before entering the theater.

The Delegates’ Assembly, a very formal meeting conducted in three languages, began the next day at 9:30 a.m. with a full agenda, including the reading of a letter from Bayreuth Mayor Merk-Erbe and greetings from Eva Wagner-Pasquier, who attended the Assembly. The item of greatest interest to the Delegates – Festival ticket allocations – was not listed on the agenda due to a late development. Three days earlier Bayreuth Festival management had written to RWVI society presidents informing them that ticket allocations for the 2020 Festival to these presidents would occur despite its earlier announcement to the contrary, and that further information would be announced at the Congress. Out-going President Horst Eggers stated that Festival management would allocate 100 Ring tickets, along with 80 Meistersinger and 80 Tannhäuser tickets to the overseas (non-European) societies, as well as a separate allocation for European societies and that distribution will be managed by the new Board. It was apparent that the President’s efforts, along with other RWVI Board members, were instrumental in convincing Festival management to reconsider its earlier decision, and appreciation was extended to the Festival management.

Dr. Stefan Specht, Geschäftsführer of the Richard-Wagner-Stipendienstiftung, gave an abbreviated report about the Richard Wagner Scholarship Foundation. Since the 2019 Congress was late in the year, Scholarship Week 2019 had already occurred and it was too early for any details about 2020. Festival management had indicated that it might take over the program, although as of January 2020, this had not been clarified. Incidentally, WSNY plans to send a stipendiate for Scholarship Week 2020.

The main item of business was election of new officers and directors for the prescribed five- year term.  President Eggers and some others did not stand for reelection, and there were only two contested positions. Two candidates ran for President and addressed the delegates, and Rainer Fineske was elected for a five-year term. The only other contested race was four German Board of Director positions for which six individuals applied. RWVI practice was to have formal written ballots for each position, including those with only one candidate, and the counting of ballots was time-consuming. The Assembly did not adjourn until almost 2:30 p.m., leaving only a short break before the 3:00 p.m. Symposium.

The Symposium had two parts. The first was listed as “Wolfgang Wagner: The Festival Director, The Stage Director” and included a discussion of Festival revival after 1945 and its subsequent productions. This segment was about Wieland Wagner and did not really discuss Wolfgang Wagner’s role before Wieland’s death. The second part was a conversation with Katharina Wagner about her recollections of her father and the Festival, from her childhood forward. This very full day at the Assembly and Symposium was capped with another special concert at La Fenice titled “Love and Death in Venice” and featured vocal selections from Die Walküre and Tristan und Isolde.

On Saturday, November 30, and Sunday, December 1, a number of optional tours were offered, including several walking tours and a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. I did not participate in these, but I did visit the Richard Wagner Museum, located in the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi (CVC), which on Saturday opened an exhibition titled Richard Wagner in Venice. The museum is located on the second floor of the CVC in space Wagner rented in September 1882 and lived in until his death on February 13, 1883. The CVC is a 16th century palace that was renovated around 1850 to include a heating system of stoves in each room, which reportedly is the reason Wagner selected the space. The museum contains an extensive collection of scores, art work, performance programs, letters, and other items, and there is an ongoing effort to restore the rooms to their appearance at the time Wagner resided in them. A plaque on the outer wall of a ground level courtyard commemorates Wagner’s death in 1883.

On Saturday evening a number of Congress participants attended a performance of Don Carlo at La Fenice. Flooding had caused the theater to cancel rehearsals and then move them to a different location, but theater staff worked around the clock and received clearance from safety inspectors to resume performances. The Royal Box was set aside for RWVI on Saturday, and all who attended enjoyed the performance and the beautiful theater.

This was my first RWVI Congress. I deeply enjoyed the experience, not only for the musical feasts but also because of the people I met, all of whom are Wagner fans committed to the goals of RWVI. Many expressed appreciation to the outgoing Board for their effectiveness and integrity.

© Wagner Notes, February 2020, a publication of the Wagner Society of New York. All rights reserved.

Jacques Bouffier, 4th Vice President, who has served faithfully throughout his five-year term, sent a final communication. He noted that the new President Fineske will follow the path that Eggers initiated with the Bayreuth management, and that Fineske understands the special needs of the overseas societies. Hughes personally expressed our gratitude to Bouffier and Eggers. They were pleased that WSNY had a delegate to the Congress; Hughes succeeded Hannelore Wilfert, who was our excellent delegate to several Congresses. (If a society does not have a delegate, there is a provision for proxy, which Bouffier was for three years.)

Andrea Buchanan, who has succeeded Bouffier as 4th Vice President, is well known to WSNY for her reviews and clarifications of RWVI matters. She reported that it was one of the best congresses she could remember. The music was wonderful: an excellent Don Carlo and a superb chamber string orchestra playing Venetian music, Mendelssohn, and the “Siegfried Idyll.” “I just wanted to let you know how much I look forward to working with you and the other overseas societies in our common cause.” She has coordinated the ticket allocations for the non-European societies, and ours have almost entirely been sold.

The RWVI performs many services for its nearly 130 member societies throughout the world, the most important to us being access to Bayreuth ticket allocations. These societies report their activities in the online Jahresbericht (annual report). The RWVI also produces an excellent online bimonthly newsletter which gives an amazing amount of current Wagner news around the world for everyone’s benefit. Do check it out. Individual members of Wagner societies may sign up for this newsletter (with choice of language): https://www.richard-wagner.org/rwvi/en/news/newsletter/.

David Hughes,

a Society member, is the Society’s International Liaison, and was our delegate to the RWVI Congresss in 2019 and 2023.