April 15, 2008 / 12:50 PM / 9 years ago

Wagner women in epic battle to lead opera festival

<p>Wolfgang Wagner his wife Gudrun (2nd L) their daughter Katharina (2nd R) and Karin Stoiber, the wife of Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber arrive for the opening of this year's Bayreuth Wagner opera festival outside the so-called Gruener Huegel (Green Hill) opera house in Bayreuth July 25, 2007. REUTERS/Michael Dalder</p>

BERLIN (Reuters) - The curtain may be rising on the final act of an epic leadership battle at Germany’s Wagner Festival after family patriarch Wolfgang Wagner said he was ready to go if his two daughters took over jointly.

In what media have called the “war of the cousins,” three great-grand-daughters of Richard Wagner have fought for years for the right to succeed Wolfgang Wagner, his grandson who, at 88, has led the opera festival since 1951.

Wolfgang Wagner indicated to sponsors last week that he was willing to step down if his daughter from a first marriage, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 63, and her much younger half-sister Katharina, 29, took the reins together.

The two rivals, who media say had not talked to each other in years, are to submit a proposal to the Richard Wagner Foundation in the next few weeks on how they intend to lead one of the world’s top opera festivals.

Katharina said they had grown closer since last year’s death of Wolfgang’s second wife Gudrun, Katharina’s mother.

“We have realized we get on well and we actually don’t think that differently,” she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper this week.

“There is some sisterly affinity.”

In 2001, the foundation chose Eva, a theatre manager, as Wolfgang’s successor, but he refused to step down, insisting his contract was for life.

Foundation members will meet again on April 29, when they are likely to discuss the half-sisters’ proposal.

<p>Wolfgang Wagner his wife Gudrun (2nd L) their daughter Katharina (2nd R) and Karin Stoiber, the wife of Bavarian premier Edmund Stoiber arrive for the opening of this year's Bayreuth Wagner opera festival outside the so-called Gruener Huegel (Green Hill) opera house in Bayreuth July 25, 2007. REUTERS/Michael Dalder</p>

Richard Wagner himself inaugurated the purpose-built opera house at Bayreuth in southeast Germany in 1876 after searching in vain for a venue big enough to stage epic operas such as his four-part Ring cycle.

Devotees of his works have famously included Hitler. Demand for the annual festival is so high that fans can wait up to 10 years for a ticket.

“BLACKMAIL”

Whether family tensions will wane under an Eva-Katharina duo remains to be seen, as the half-sisters’ cousin Nike, 62, also aspires to run the festival.

Nike, who runs an arts festival in the city of Weimar and is the daughter of Wolfgang’s brother Wieland, said she and Eva had already handed in a proposal to lead the festival together, and that she would be disappointed if her cousin switched sides.

“Wolfgang Wagner is blackmailing the foundation: Only if his own blood gets the ok he will think about resigning,” she told the Berliner Morgenpost daily.

Katharina Wagner, a statuesque blonde, had her directing debut at the Wagner festival last year and received mixed reviews for “Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg.” Some critics say she is too young and inexperienced to lead the festival.

Nike called her work “childishly harmless, popular and tabloidy” in a radio interview this week, saying she did not know how Katharina would work with Eva, who was a “serious person.”

She ruled out the idea of all three women heading the festival together, saying it would lead to “endless disputes.”

Reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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