Previous exhibitions

19th July to 3rd November, 2019

The Principal. Wolfgang Wagner and the “Bayreuth Workshop”.

On 30th August, 2019, Wolfgang Wagner (1919-2010) would have been 100 years old. The youngest grandson of Richard Wagner, he directed the Bayreuth Festival for almost 60 years and shaped it like no other during this almost unimaginably long era. To mark the occasion of his 100th birthday, the Richard Wagner Museum is mounting a large anniversary exhibition, presenting and honouring his personality and outstanding life achievement as artistic director, stage designer and director.

The exhibition is also a panorama of German history as well as social and cultural developments far beyond German reunification, which the Festival and its treatment of Richard Wagner’s works has always reflected and sometimes even encapsulated.

In 1951, with the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival and together with his brother, Wieland, Wolfgang Wagner succeeded in dissociating the Festival from the compromising entanglement with National Socialism which the family itself had caused.

Foto: Wolfgang Wagner bei Proben im Festspielhaus, um 1975 (Ausschnitt)

After the premature death of his brother in 1966, Wolfgang Wagner directed the Festival on his own until 2008, when he opened it to foreign directors, framed its workshop character and, with the groundbreaking engagements of directors such as Patrice Chéreau, Götz Friedrich, Harry Kupfer and Christoph Schlingensief, established it as a central venue for modern, innovative and mostly controversial interpretations of Richard Wagner’s works.

Through his support of scientific projects such as the Wagner Collected Letters or the Thyssen series on the Bayreuth Festival, and with the establishment of the Richard Wagner Foundation in 1973, he also promoted and secured the fostering and judicious treatment of Richard Wagner’s away from the stage and the Festival Hall.

In keeping with Wolfgang Wagner’s interpretation of the Festival as a “workshop”, the Richard Wagner Museum also sees this exhibition as the first of several “productions”: as the initial step on the path to understanding the person and the Festival director, making an initial assessment, at the start of the creation of a museum in which those things that endure over time gradually emerge. Due to the fact that his life and work are in the relatively recent past, the research on Wolfgang Wagner is still at too early a stage to permit a final evaluation.

4th April to 26th May, 2019

Siegfried Wagner. A search for clues

To mark the 150th anniversary of Siegfried Wagner’s birth, the museum sets out in search of traces of his son – Siegfried Wagner the artist, the Festival director and man.

Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930) was chosen by his mother Cosima as “heir to the throne” and guardian of his father’s inheritance. However, it would be inappropriate and incorrect to describe him solely as a “professional heir”.

When he took over the management of the Festival in 1908, he began the first tentative modern changes to the productions. Under Siegfried Wagner, light in particular became a design medium. In 1924 he succeeded in reopening the Festival, which had been interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. With his new production of “Tannhäuser” in 1930, Siegfried Wagner at last demonstrated that as a director he was open to a contemporary style of staging. He learned of the roaring success of his production in hospital, after having suffered a heart attack before the opening of the Festival. Siegfried Wagner died on 4th August, 1930.

Siegfried stehend, 1927 © Nationalarchiv der Richard-Wagner-Stiftung, Bayreuth

To mark the 150th anniversary of Siegfried Wagner’s birth, the Richard Wagner Museum Bayreuth opens the repositories in which his artistic legacy is preserved and sets off on the trail of the son, artist, Festival director and personage of Siegfried Wagner. The exhibition attempts to close the gaps that characterize the biography of Wagner’s heir and that to this day treat his personality, his artistry and therefore also his philosophy like a blank canvas onto which various interpretations and controversial discussions are projected.

Siegfried Wagner mit seiner Mutter Cosima, Fotografie, 1911 © Nationalarchiv der Richard-Wagner-Stiftung, Bayreuth

Siegfried Wagner left behind an operatic oeuvre quantitatively comparable to that of his father. In the number of illustrations, the son beats his father by a wide margin; in fact, with perhaps the exception of grandfather Franz Liszt, there is no member of the Wagner family, not even Richard Wagner himself, who has left behind so many illustrative references. And yet, Siegfried Wagner’s manifestation remains blurred, elusive, contradictory, often a mere façade. In numerous texts – primarily those associated with Bayreuth – he is later even stylized like his father in hagiographic terms as a “master”.

Hardly any autobiographical statements or explanations of his works exist. Theoretical and ideological observations on art, such as those produced in large quantities by his father, are rarely found in Siegfried Wagner’s oeuvre. Important parts of his private estate are still kept locked away and are not accessible for research purposes.

Siegfried Wagner’s life is almost only tangible and documented in his work and in the productions of his father’s works. Siegfried Wagner’s own works for the stage, on the other hand, have largely been forgotten. He did, however, write poems, and composed 17 fairy-tale and folk operas, a large number of which were premièred during his lifetime. However, with the exception of his first opera, “Der Bärenhäuter” (“The Bearskin Man”), they met with little audience interest and quickly disappeared from the repertoire.

Siegfried Wagner’s accomplishments  concerning the Festival are nonetheless undisputed: the financial consolidation in economically trying times, the technical modernization and – last but not least – especially in cooperation with the stage designer Kurt Söhnlein from 1925, the careful scenic rehabilitation of his father’s works , which under the direction of his mother Cosima, had been reduced to an anachronistic cult. However, these achievements are often overshadowed by the ideological demands and politicization of the Festival, in which Siegfried Wagner played no small part. After their resumption in 1924, following a ten-year interruption due to the war, the works increasingly became an instrument of national and ultimately National Socialist propaganda.

In 1930, the year of Siegfried Wagner’s death, Robert Musil’s “Man without Qualities”, Ulrich, took a “vacation from life” to embark on a search for the content and purpose of his existence. There were other surprising parallels between Musil’s novel and Siegfried Wagner’s life and personality, not least in the search for a “different state”, in a sexual context. And just as the narrative of Ulrich’s quest for meaning dissipates into countless threads and remains unfinished, Siegfried Wagner’s biography also remains fragmented to this day.

Siegfried Wagner, um 1920 © Nationalarchiv der Richard-Wagner-Stiftung, Bayreuth
18th July to 4th November, 2018

Theatrum Mundi. Baroque World Theatre, Stage Festival, Spectacle

“All the world’s a stage” – this much-quoted saying by William Shakespeare, had a particularly significance in the Baroque era: the notion that earthly life was nothing but an illusory appearance staged by the gods, in which each human being must play the role allotted to him was fundamental to the European world view in the 17th and 18th centuries. At royal courtly banquets and in the rapidly-spreading multimedia spectacle of opera as a universal work of art, the then ruling classes, self-proclaimed representatives of God on earth, staged and reflected this world to glorify Him and to keep hold of the reins of power.

In the bourgeois era of the 19th century, the idea of the “Theatrum Mundi” (World Theatre) is probably nowhere more emphatically realized, although under completely different circumstances, than in Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk or universal work of art: the Bayreuth Festival. Especially the “Ring of the Nibelung” reflects an outdated traditional order of aristocracy, a corrupt world of finance and decadent politics, which it was Wagner’s aim to overcome in order to replace it with an “aesthetic world order”.

Plakatmotiv der Sonderausstellung „Theatrum Mundi“ 2018; Nationalarchiv der Richard-Wagner-Stiftung, Bayreuth
30th March to 27th May, 2018

Ich lasse mich nicht zermahlen!!!“(“I will not be crushed!!!“) – Friedelind Wagner and Bayreuth

An intervention in Siegfried Wagner House

Friedelind Wagner (1918-1991), the eldest daughter of Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried and his wife Winifred, was one of the most prominent proponents of the opposition to the Festival as “Hitler’s Court Theatre ” and the enthusiastic support shown him at Wahnfried. She proved that as a “Wagner” one did not have to be a National Socialist. She would have turned 100 on 29th March, 2018.

“I will not be crushed!”, wrote Friedelind Wagner on 6th November, 1939 in a letter to her aunt Daniela Thode. Friedelind Wagner was thus a significant counterpoint to the spirit that manifested itself as an example in Siegfried Wagner House. From her youth onwards she was regarded as the “black sheep” of the family and after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, she went into exile in America at the age of only 21.

Friedelind Wagner, Brustbild nach links, mit Hut
5th March to 27th May, 2018

Das Verdächtige Saxophon. “Entartete Musik” im NS-Staat (The Ominous Saxophone. “Depraved Music” in the Third Reich

An annotated reconstruction of the 1938 Dusseldorf exhibition

After the National Socialist book burnings in 1933 and the expulsion and imprisonment of artists critical of the regime, the Munich exhibition “Degenerate Art” followed in 1937. In music, too, the modern aesthetics and stylistic tendencies were branded as “degeneration” and “corruption”. In May 1938 an exhibition entitled “Degenerate Music” was held at the “Reichsmusiktagen” (Reich Music Days) in Dusseldorf.

Friedelind Wagner, Brustbild nach links, mit Hut
14 th July to 29 th November, 2017

»Es gibt nichts ‚Ewiges‘.« (“Nothing is eternal“)

Wieland Wagner – Tradition and Revolution. An anniversary exhibition on the occasion of the 100th birthday.

Wieland Wagner (1917-1966) was one of the 20th century’s greatest reformers of the operatic stage. Growing up in the sheltered isolation of Wahnfried, the mythical home of his grandfather Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, surrounded by German nationalistic, anti-Semitic Wagner ideology and the artistic Bohemian atmosphere of the Festival, the first-born son of Wagner’s son Siegfried and his wife Winifred became a favourite of Adolf Hitler.

After his first attempts at stage design at the Bayreuth Festival between 1937 and 1945, the end of World War II and the Third Reich, with the discovery of the crimes of the regime to which his family and, above all, his mother were so closely connected, represented a deep and distressing disruption of the ostensibly perfect world of the designated Bayreuth Crown Prince.

Wieland Wagner vor Richard Wagner
17th July to 20th November, 2016


Photographs 1992-2016

The Richard Wagner Museum already focused on a chapter of Wagner iconography and its reception in its special exhibition “Germanenkult – Wagner-Illustrationen von Ferdinand Leeke” (Germanic cult – Wagner illustrations by Ferdinand Leeke) (15.03.-29.05.2016). As a follow up, the 2016 Summer Exhibition, featuring the theatre photography of Monika Rittershaus, presents the diverse reception of Wagner over the previous 20 years, thereby also illustrating the discussion around a Wagner image that was shaped to no little extent by Leeke’s works at the beginning of the last century.

Theatre photography is a special discipline of the art of photography. As a performative, dynamic art form, theatre evades the fixed moment in time frozen, or as it were, solidified by a photograph. So it is important not only to capture the artistic intention of an operatic production and its authors in the recorded moment, but also its specific internal and external rhythm. Successful theatre photography is therefore not only documentation, but also always an interpretation and representation of theatre aesthetics.

Plakatmotiv der Sonderausstellung „Wagnerbilder. Monika Rittershaus. Fotografien 1992–2016”, 2016 – Foto: Monika Rittershaus, „Götterdämmerung” 2010
25th March to 29th May, 2016

Germanenkult – Wagner-Illustrationen von Ferdinand Leeke

(Germanic cult – Wagner Illustrations by Ferdinand Leeke)

Friedrich Nietzsche was shocked by what he experienced at the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876: “Wagner has been translated into German! […] German art! The German master! German beer!”

Cosima Wagner, her future son-in-law Houston Stewart Chamberlain and the “Bayreuth Circle” around her had firmly anchored Richard Wagner’s legacy and image in the anti-modernism of the German Empire. They not only placed it unconditionally at the service of the emerging people’s nationalism – but at its pinnacle.

The image of a “Germanic” Wagner in the gouaches of painter Ferdinand August Leeke (1859 – 1937), which Siegfried Wagner commissioned from the artist at the end of the 19th century in memory of his father, was widely disseminated and thus strongly anchored. The gouaches served as templates for elaborate portfolios and countless postcards.

Germanenkult – Wagner-Illustrationen von Ferdinand Leeke
27th  July, 2015 to 31st  January, 2016

„Wahnfried“ oder „Aergersheim“ (“Crazy-Tranquil or Home of Trouble”)

The history of Wahnfried

Richard Wagner spent his life travelling around Europe and was almost 60 years old when he planned his own artist’s villa in Bayreuth in 1872 and – with money from King Ludwig II and Cosima – built the house he called “Wahnfried”. Because of the many delays in construction, Wagner meanwhile also started to talk about his “Aergersheim” or “Home of Trouble”. The exhibition around the history of “Wahnfried”, conceived by the Swiss ARTES office, under the direction of Dr. Verena Naegele, shows the history of the origins and transformation of this unique composer’s villa from a residential building with annexes to its transformation into a museum.

In 1893 Wagner’s son Siegfried built the Siegfried Wagner House on the same site, which his wife, Winifred, extended several times from 1932 onwards. Adolf Hitler also stayed here as a guest. After the destruction of Wahnfried by a bomb in 1945, the house was made habitable again in 1949, following plans by Hans Reissinger. Until the death of Wagner’s grandson Wieland in 1966, it served as a residence for his family. After its reconstruction, the exterior of which remained true to the original, it has been run as a museum since 1976.

Haus Wahnfried