The Bayreuth Festival is confronted with allegations of sexism. Even Katharina Wagner, the director of Germany’s most important opera festival, is said to have been attacked.
Acting and committed music theater that is not limited to the static singing of arias on the ramp are physical art forms. As soon as two or more people are on stage together, there is interaction, closeness, maybe touching and physical familiarity. In this context, the probability that the protagonists will even get too close to each other should be a lot higher than in a traditional office job.
A high degree of emotionality and the necessary identification of the actors with their roles can also lead to the blurring of the boundaries between appearance and reality, between theatrical performance and real life. In this borderline and gray zone, forms of relationships have always developed, both before and behind the scenes, which do not exactly correspond to bourgeois conventions. For centuries, widespread libertinism was accepted as a peculiarity of theatrical life – but now people are taking a closer look here too.
In the course of the #MeToo movement, which started with film, there has also been a growing awareness of the downsides of a misunderstood artistic closeness in theaters and operas: for verbal transgressions, but also for uncomfortable dependencies and power imbalances, the attacks up to can lead to physical abuse. The Bayreuth Festival was caught up in precisely such allegations shortly before it began.
Several women told the “Nordbayerisches Kurier” that there had been attacks during the rehearsal phase. There was talk of unwanted touching, innuendo and harassing text messages. One of those affected described the behavior of some colleagues as “touchy touchy”; for some, this experience is “everyday life,” the report said. The allegations seem particularly piquant because even Katharina Wagner herself, the director of the festival, admitted that she had experienced “sexual innuendos” and “attacks in a certain way”. But she “knew how to defend herself”.
The strange working atmosphere to which these allegations indicate immediately called politicians into action, including the German Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth, and the Mayor of Bayreuth, Thomas Ebersberger, both of whom are also shareholders of the Festspiel-GmbH by office. They demanded clarification and appropriate consequences. “Sexual assault, whether verbal or physical, is absolutely unacceptable and must not go unpunished,” Roth said. The festival itself had immediately asked those affected to contact the management or the works council. There should also be a mailbox for anonymous reports.
Efforts to clarify have apparently already led to the first results. At her annual media conference at the start of the Bayreuth Festival on Saturday, Katharina Wagner indicated that she was now aware of further evidence and witnesses. According to information from the “Nordbayerisches Kurier” it should also be about incidents “with well-known participants of the Festspielhaus”. However, names were not mentioned.
It also remained unclear to what extent the events were related to allegations that were recently made against Christian Thielemann. The former music director of the festival is said to have repeatedly used the wrong tone to the participants and possibly also made sexist comments. Thielemann has denied the allegations.
It is to be hoped that the Bayreuth Festival will consistently continue the process of clarification, which in this case began unusually quickly and with exemplary transparency – even if this should actually lead to the departure of prominent participants in the end. In the gray area of theater life described above, one thing must no longer be up for debate: that a no really means no.