(born on May 21. 1978)
Daughter of Wolfgang Wagner and his second wife Gudrun Mack
Stage and opera director
Director of the Bayreuth Festival (since 2007)
Katharina Wagner was born on 21 May, 1978 in Bayreuth. She is the daughter of Wolfgang Wagner and Gudrun Mack. Passionate about staging and theatre, the young woman studied film at the Free University of Berlin. She began her career by working as an assistant to director Harry Kupfer at the Staatsoper in Berlin. Then Katharina Wagner returned to the inner circle, namely to the Bayreuth Festival, where she became her father’s assistant in 1996.
At the same time as her activities at the prestigious Festival founded by her great-grandfather, Katharina Wagner deepened her mastery of his art, of which she became, despite her young age, one of the most fervent experts by staging for instance The Flying Dutchman in Würzburg in 2002 and Lohengrin in Budapest in 2004.
Since 2001, Katharina Wagner has been supporting her father in the management of the festival and has since then been encouraged in her function as a potential successor. The father and the daughter, working together in perfect harmony and complicity thus allowed the arrival of new directors in Bayreuth such as Christoph Schlingensief, and the publicity of the establishment – in order to attract new eyes, but also a new public – has been honoured. What got her, for a time, to be accused of populism.
Heavily considered to follow in her father’s footsteps at the helm of the festival, Katharina officially sent an application with Christian Thielemann in September 2007. She was finally elected by the Richard Wagner Foundation as co-director of the festival in conjunction with her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, on 1 September, 2008.
The two heirs of Richard Wagner would thus jointly hold the reins of the Festival, until 2015, the year when this dual management contract expired. Eva Wagner-Pasquier having asked the Foundation in charge of managing the Festival not to extend hers, Katharina remains solely at the helm of the management of Bayreuth.
Just like her father Wolfgang, in Bayreuth, Katharina also got involved not only as director of the Festival but also as stage director.
Thus in July 2007 Katharina Wagner signed her first production of her great-grandfather’s works on the Festspielhaus stage, with playwright Richard Sollich and costume designer Alexander Dodge, with The Master-Singers of Nuremberg conducted by Sebastian Weigle. This production reverses the usual position by making Sachs and Walther the upholders of conservatism, while Beckmesser is an innovative and misunderstood artist. An audacious production, inherited from the school of the regietheater, of which she was one of the most intelligent spokespeople, but with extreme finesse and proving – if it was still needed – her absolute mastery of her prestigious grandfather’s art. A production shaken at its creation, which, as is often the case in Bayreuth, was quickly welcomed as one of the best productions of the last decade on the Green Hill.
In 2007, Katharina Wagner made possible journalists’ access to rehearsals. And in 2008, for the first time, she allowed the live broadcast of a performance of the festival on the Bayreuth Volksfestplatz. An obvious gesture towards audiences who are not fortunate enough to be among the limited number of spectators who can attend the performances within the precincts of the Holy of Holies. A “heresy” criticized by the rearguard of the faithful, a flagrant – and remarkable – symbol of modernity towards the general public, who, thanks to this initiative can now “be in communion” with the chosen ones in real time, the time of the performance. And it is thanks to such communication operations that she initiated – and Katharina Wagner perfectly understood it – that this resolutely out of the ordinary Festival that is Bayreuth would survive.
The same success would come in 2016 for her Tristan and Isolde very quickly adopted by the faithful of Bayreuth, with sets inspired by the Imaginary Prisons by Piranesi and the optical illusions by Maurits Cornelis Escher.
Since 2011 Katharina Wagner has been appointed Honorary Professor of management at the “Hanns Eisler” Academy of Music in Berlin. In 2012, she received the Culture Prize in Bavaria and, in 2016, the Bavarian Medal of Europe.