Wagner's 200th anniversary gets an oil-themed "Ring"

BAYREUTH, Germany Thu Jul 25, 2013 12:54pm EDT

Sculptures of German composer Richard Wagner are seen outside the Gruener Huegel (Green Hill) opera house in Bayreuth July 25, 2013. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Sculptures of German composer Richard Wagner are seen outside the Gruener Huegel (Green Hill) opera house in Bayreuth July 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Michaela Rehle

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BAYREUTH, Germany (Reuters) - The sometimes staid audience for the annual Wagner festival in the Bavarian opera house he built was bracing this week for a new production of his mythic "Ring" cycle inspired by American TV, Hitchcock's "Psycho" and the pursuit of oil.

For a new production for the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth, Berlin theatre director Frank Castorf said "Rheingold", the first in the four-opera cycle, was set in Texas and opened at a motel on Route 66 - the road that snakes through America.

"It's a place where you would meet a figure like Jim Morrison," the late lead singer of rock group "The Doors", Castorf said.

At a press conference on Thursday, with Wagner's great-granddaughters Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner in attendance, Castorf said he had also drawn inspiration from film director Quentin Tarantino, big American cars and Coca-Cola.

The production, which will have its premiere on Friday night, has already prompted speculation in the German press that it could cause a scandal, but Katharina Wagner was unfazed.

"It's not about whether I think the 'Ring' is good or bad, it's important that it's exciting and people talk about it," she told reporters.

Castorf said he had also incorporated Mount Rushmore, the monument to U.S. presidents in South Dakota, into the production but had replaced their heads with those of Stalin, Lenin, Marx and Mao.

The switch showed the interplay between capitalism and communism and both systems' dependence on oil, he added.

Long-time Bayreuth-goers have learned to cope with different directors' takes on works that have been playing for 150 years and have only grown in popularity.

The opening of the festival season was marked with a morning musical ceremony beside Wagner's grave.

Trumpet players of the Festival orchestra and the Festival chorus performed a chorale from his "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" for several hundred people.

"I do this every single solitary year. I find it riveting and unbelievably touching," said Siobhan Conroy of Dublin who, with her husband Patrick von Gordon, lives in Bayreuth.

"The singing has a certain resonance on a morning like today, with the sun shining through the trees and so many people have come to celebrate the genius that was Richard Wagner."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband - quantum chemist and Wagner enthusiast Joachim Sauer - arrived minutes before the start of the festival's opening performance of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" on Thursday, making no comment to waiting photographers.

(Additional reporting by Marzanne van den Berg; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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