Wagner Biographies

Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010)

Wolfgang Wagner (30 August 1919 - 21 March 2010) devoted his whole life to the Bayreuth Festival and the works of his grandfather Richard Wagner. He was the son of Siegfried Wagner, and was best known as the leader the Bayreuth Festival, first together with his brother Wieland Wagner from 1951 to 1966 and then alone until he retired in 2008 and his daughter Katharina Wagner took over with Eva Wagner-Pasquier.

Obituaries here >>

Wolfgang Wagner's merits are for his administration of the Festival, not for his stagings. He has invited directors like Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Patrice Chéreau, Harry Kupfer, who all have created productions that are now classics. Besides many artists have become world stars at Bayreuth: Heinz Zednik, Waltraud Meier, Graham Clark, Anne Evans, Simon Estes, Lisbeth Balslev and many more.

Numerous classic recordings and video/DVDs have been made at Bayreuth during Wagner's reign: The Chéreau/Boulez Ring, Heiner Müllers Tristan und Isolde, Harry Kupfer's Holländer etc.

Wolfgang Wagner's daughter Katharina Wagner has been running the Festival in cooperation with her half sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier since 2008.

Wolfgang Wagner's son from his first marriage, Gottfried Wagner, has published a book, Twilight of the Wagners: The Unveiling of a Family's Legacy (Wer nicht mit dem Wolf heult), where he criticized his father for closing his eyes for the morally ambivalent content in Richard Wagner's works and the Festival's ties to Hitler and the Nazi movement.

Wolfgang Wagner: Obituaries

Said about Wolfgang Wagner

Somehow, Wolfgang has not merely survived from then until now. He has also succeeded in the terms that matter most to him. He has kept Bayreuth and its unique, visionary theatre in the forefront of European artistic life, ensured its funding and stability, maintained its generally high musical standards and continued to deliver an annual Wagner festival that could sell out many times over. He has done it, moreover, without relinquishing the Wagner family's control and often by taking the unexpectedly daring artistic option - notably in the centenary Marx and Shaw influenced Ring directed by Patrice Chéreau in 1976 and now again this year, in a truly remarkable new production of Parsifal by the Norwegian director Stefan Herheim.
Martin Kettle, The Guardian, Saturday August 2 2008



Wolfgang Wagner - a biographical sketch


Wolfgang Wagner is born in Bayreuth on 30 August, son of Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930) and Winifred Wagner (1897-1980).

Wolfgang Wagner is the grandson of Richard Wagner.


Discharge from the German military service, working for the first time at the Bayreuth Festival as a trainee.

Since October assistant director and assistant stage manager at the Preussische Staatsoper in Berlin.

7 June premiere of the first independent staging: Bruder Lustig by Siegfried Wagner, performed at the Staatsoper Berlin. The title was changed to Andreasnacht to convey that is was not in any sense a comic opera and because a bright and breezy title like Bruder Lustig certainly would have been inappropriate to the situation prevailing in early summer 1944. Singers included: Josef Greindl, Maria Müller, Peter Anders, Margaret Klose, Will Domgraf-Fassbaender, Eugen Fuchs.
1947 Wolfgang's son Gottfried Wagner is born.
Taking over and directing the Bayreuth Festival together and sharing rights equally with his brother, Wieland Wagner.

Revival of the Bayreuth Festival after a six-year pause.

The opening year gave the following productions:


Conductor: Hans Knappertsbusch
Stage director: Wieland Wagner
Windgassen, Mödl, London

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Conductor: Herbert von Karajan / Hans Knappertsbusch
Stage director: Rudolf Otto Hartmann (production borrowed from Munich)

Der Ring des Nibelungen

Conductor: Herbert von Karajan / Hans Knappertsbusch
Stage director: Wieland Wagner
Varnay, Rysanek, Treptow, Sigurs Björling

1952  Joint guest performance with Wieland Wagner in Naples staging Das Rheingold and Die Walküre.
First production in Bayreuth: Lohengrin; continuation of the Bayreuth guest performance in Naples with Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.
Together with Wieland Wagner joint direction of the Bayreuth guest performance in Brussels staging Siegfried.

New production of Der fliegende Holländer in Bayreuth

Directed jointly with Wieland Wagner the Bayreuth guest performance of Die Walküre, Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal in Barcelona

Don Giovanni in Braunschweig, premiering in December.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Rome, Premiere in March

Guest performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Venice, premiering in February and March.

New production of Tristan und Isolde in Bayreuth; Guest performance of Siegfried in Bologna, premiere in December.

Tristan und Isolde in Venice, premiering in February

Tristan und Isolde (transmission of the Bayreuth event) in Palermo, premiere in February.

New production of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Bayreuth.

Die Walküre in Palermo, premiere in February.

Wieland Wagner dies 17 October, 1966. Wolfgang Wagner is now sole leader of the Bayreuth Festival.


Guest performance of Die Walküre and Tristan und Isolde during the Osaka Festival (productions staged by Wieland Wagner.

New production of Lohengrin in Bayreuth.

New production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Bayreuth.
New production of Der Ring des Nibelungen in Bayreuth.
New production of Parsifal in Bayreuth.

Katharina Wagner born. Her mother is Gudrun Wagner (1944-2007).

Guest performance of Tristan und Isolde in Milano, premiering in April.

New production  of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Bayreuth

New production of Tannhäuser in Bayreuth

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Dresden, premiering in December.

Der fliegende Holländer in Dresden, premiering in December.

New production of Parsifal in Bayreuth

Guest performance of the Bayreuth Festival in Tokyo staging Tannhäuser.

Guest performance of Lohengrin in Taormina, premiering in September.

Publication of the autobiography Lebens-Akte (english: Acts - The Autobiography of Wolfgang Wagner)

Dr. h. c. by the Bayreuth University.

New production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Bayreuth. This production is released on DVD.
Guest performance of Lohengrin in Tokyo, premiering in November.
2008 31 August: Wolfgang Wagner resigns as leader of the Bayreuth Festival. His daughters Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier takes over.
2010 21 March Wolfgang Wagner dies in Bayreuth (see here for obituaries)




Wolfgang Wagner's productions at the Bayreuth Festival

Wolfgang Wagner has produced all his grandfather's great music dramas at Bayreuth.

Lohengrin 1953-54


Joseph Keilberth, Eugen Jochum

Principal singers

Wolfgang Windgassen, Astrid Varnay, Hermann Uhde, Eleanor Steber, Birgit Nilsson, Joseph Greindl

Der fliegende Holländer (1955-56)



Joseph Keilberth, Hans Knappertsbusch

Principal singers

Astrid Varnay, Hermann Uhde, Ludwig Weber

Tristan und Isolde (1957-59)


Wolfgang Sawallisch


Principal singers

Wolfgang Windgassen (Tristan), Birgit Nilsson (Isolde)

Der Ring des Nibelungen (1960-64)


Rudolf Kempe (1960-63), Berislav Klobucar (1964)

Principal singers

Hermann Uhde/Theo Adam / Jerôme Hines / Otto Wiener / Hans Hotter (Wotan), Gerhard Stolze (Loge), Otakar Kraus (Alberich), Jutta Meyfarth (Sieglinde), Gottlob Frick (Hunding and Hagen), Birgit Nilsson / Astrid Varnay (Brünnhilde), Hans Hopf (Siegfried), Herold Kraus / Erich Klaus (Mime)


Before his Bayreuth debut as Ring director, Wolfgang Wagner had already directed the Ring at La Fenice in Venice. The basic visual elements were a concave and a convex disc, symbolizing the world of the gods and the Nibelungs. During the final bars of Götterdämmerung the destroyed disc was restored. Wolfgang Wagner wanted to have two naked people, but this was too bold for its time, according to Wolfgang. (See Wolfgang Wagner: Lebens-Akte, p. 208-209)

For this Ring Wolfgang  used a large concave disc – in German the Scheibe – which was soon nicknamed the saucer. But it did not remain a platform. It was also symbolic of the story, starting as the placid bed of a pool in the Rhine, it was later split and segments of it set at different angles. Each scene used the Scheibe in a different form, often roofed by a companion disc in various broken sections. Strife and suffering mark the development of the saga, and this design depicted the tumult of passions and events in bold, jagged shapes, until at the very end when the Rhinemaidens have regained their golden talisman, when all passion is spent and peace heals the passing of gods and men, the great disc sank back into its first simplicity. Bare and smooth it lay, under a silvery blue light. Of all the Rings I have seen in many different operahouses this was by far the finest ending of Götterdämmerung.
Penelope Turing: New Bayreuth (p. 63)

Cover New Bayreuth

Lohengrin (1967, 1968, 1971, 1972)


Silvio Varviso

Principal singers

René Kollo (Lohengrin), Heather Harper / Hannelore Bode (Elsa), Donald McIntyre (Telramund), Karl Ridderbusch (König Heinrich)

The premiere year there were 5 singers who sang the Lohengrin part:

  • Sándor Konya
  • James King
  • Jess Thomas
  • Jean Cox
  • Hermin Esser

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1968, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1974, 1975)


Karl Böhm, Berislav Klobucar, Silvio Varviso


Principal singers

Theo Adam / Norman Bailey / Karl Ridderbusch (Hans Sachs), Jean Cox / René Kollo (Walther von Stolzing), Hannelore Bode (Eva) , Hermin Esser / Heinz Zednik / Frieder Stricker (David), Thomas Hemsley / Klaus Hirte (Sixtus Beckmesser), Bernd Weikl (Ein Nachtwächter), Gerd Nienstedt (Fritz Kothner)

A recording of this production was made by Philips in 1974 with Silvio Varviso conducting, and the following cast: Karl Ridderbusch (Hans Sachs), Hannelore Bode (Eva), Hans Sotin (Veit Pogner) and Jean Cox (Walther von Stolzing).

Der Ring des Nibelungen (1970-75)



Horst Stein

Principal singers

Heinz Zednik (Mime), Thomas Stewart / Theo Adam / Donald McIntyre (Wotan), Hermin Esser (Loge), Gustav Neidlinger / Franz Mazura (Alberich), Marga Höfgen (Erda), Karl Ridderbusch (Fasolt), Kurt Moll (Fafner), Catarina Ligendza / Gwyneth Jones (Brünnhilde), Gwyneth Jones / Marita Napier (Sieglinde), Karl Ridderbusch (Hunding), Jean Cox (Siegfried) Franz Mazura (Gunther), Janis Martin / Eva Randová (Gutrune)





Parsifal (1975-81)


Horst Stein

Principal singers

Bernd Weikl (Amfortas), René Kollo / Peter Hofmann / Siegfried Jerusalem / Manfred Jung (Parsifal), Franz Mazura (Klingsor), Dunja Vejzovic / Eva Randová (Kundry), Hans Sotin / Theo Adam (Gurnemanz), Karl Ridderbusch / Matti Salminen (Titurel)

This production was filmed in 1981 and released on DVD with the following cast: Siegfried Jerusalem, Eva Randova, Bernd Weikl, Hans Sotin, Leif Roar, Matti Salminen.

See all Parsifal conductors in Bayreuth here

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1981-84, 1986-88)



Horst Stein / Michael Schønwandt

Principal singers

Bernd Weikl (Hans Sachs), Siegfried Jerusalem (Walther von Stolzing), Manfred Schenk (Veit Pogner), Herman Prey / Alan Opie (Sixtus Beckmesser), Mari Anne Häggander / Lucy Peacock (Eva), Helmut Pampuch (Augustin Moser), Marga Schiml (Magdalene), Jef Vermeersch (Fritz Kothner), Graham Clark (David)

Tannhäuser (1

985-87, 1989, 1992-93, 1995)


Giuseppe Sinopoli / Donald C. Runnicles

Principal singers

Richard Versalle / Wolfgang Schmidt (Tannhäuser), Cheryl Studer / Tina Kiberg (Elisabeth), Gabriele Schnaut / Uta Priew (Venus), Hans Sotin / Manfred Schenk (Landgraf Hermann)

Parsifal (1989-96)


James Levine / Giuseppe Sinopoli

Principal singers

Bernd Weikl (Amfortas), Matthias Hölle (Titurel), Hans Sotin (Gurnemanz), William Pell / Poul Elming / Plácido Domingo (Parsifal), Franz Mazura (Klingsor), Waltraud Meier / Janis Martin (Kundry)

See all Parsifal conductors in Bayreuth here

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1996)


Daniel Barenboim

Principal singers

Robert Holl (Hans Sachs), Peter Seiffert (Walther von Stolzing), Renée Fleming / Emily Magee (Eva), Birgitta Svendén (Magdalene), Kwangchul Youn (Ein Nachtwächter), Endrik Wottrich (David), Torsten Kerl (Balthasar Zorn), Helmut Pampuch (Augustin Moser)

This production was filmed in 1999 and released on DVD with the following cast: Peter Seiffert, Robert Holl, Matthias Hölle, Andreas Schmidt, Endrik Wottrich, Emily Magee, Birgitta Svendén, Kwangchul Youn


Birgit Nilsson om Wolfgang Wagner

«Repetitionsarbetet underlättades inte genom att Wolfgang Wagner talade en flödande, oberfränkisk dialekt. Jag, som hade svårt nog med tyskan, stod som ett levande frågetecken inför denna strida ström av obegripliga ord. det var heller ingen idé att försöka fråga honom om en position eller dylikt, för då blev det en säkerligen mycket lärorik undervisning på ca 15-20 minuter, om jag bara förstått vad han sa. Det fanns de som tog upp hans instruktioner på band och sedan fick dem översatta av någon specialist på oberfränkiska.»

Birgit Nilsson: La Nilsson (selvbiografi)




Selected Biographies