By Mailis Wakeham
My rationale for choosing to go with Odyssey Traveller (OT) was that they had organised a tour for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which was being staged in Leipzig, Germany, Wagner’s birthplace, and also that I’d be going to three other cities that connected with Wagner – Dresden, Bayreuth and Munich. To my delight, they provided preparatory material, with a Reading List which provided a short synopsis of each opera.
The tour itself commenced in Dresden, where we stayed for two nights in the elegant Maritim Hotel, situated on the banks of the Elbe. It was there that the 8 people booked onto this tour met together, also with the Tour Guide, who let us know that he had organised a local guide to show us around each of the cities we were booked to go to – and in particular to take us to places relating to Wagner. From the Maritim Hotel we were able to walk to the Semperoper in around 5 minutes, and a few more minutes to the more distant, and very beautiful “Frauenkirche Cathedral” (Church of Our Lady”).
Our Tour Guide had organised a bus and bus driver to take us to Leipzig the next day. En route we stopped at Graupa, to visit the Jadgschloss which included a multimedia exhibition titled: “Wagner in Saxony”. We then travelled on to Leipzig, where we were to stay for five evenings at Victor’s Residenz-Hotel. On our arrival there, we were provided a list of the performances, direction and cast for each of the Ring Operas, plus a separate synopsis of Das Rheingold which was to commence that same day at 5pm (as would each of the Ring performance). Our Tour Guide said that we could walk from our hotel to the Leipzig Opera house in only 15 minutes, and we all agreed that this would be a good way to get some exercise after a long bus trip.
The opera house was well organised for food and drinks at interval, and was packed with people. As our group walked back to our Hotel, we chatted about our views of Das Rheingold; most of us had enjoyed the singing, but found some of the staging rather awkward, particularly that of the “river waters”.
The next day, we were taken on a guided city tour of Leipzig that followed in the steps of Wagner, and returned to our Hotel in time to have some dinner, receive a synopsis of Die Walkure and then we walked to the Opera House to see the performance. On our walk back to our Hotel we all agreed that the staging had been very dramatic and almost to the point of being fearful.
The following day we went on a bus ride to Eisleben, and were shown where Wagner had lived with relatives after the death of his stepfather. On return to our Hotel, we prepared ourselves for the third evening - Siegfried. On our return walk back from the Opera house everyone praised it.
The final evening was Gotterdammerung, which made me feel tense from start to finish. When walking home, the group could not stop talking about it - each seemingly trying to clarify the staging of this Ring Cycle.
On a Sunday, we were invited by our tour guide to go and see ancient music instruments in a museum near the Opera house – these instruments were exquisite items, so unlike modern-day instruments. Sadly there was no means of hearing them. Later in the afternoon we visited the Old St John’s Cemetery where Wagner’s parents and his sister Rosalie were buried. The Cemetery itself was richly green with grass and trees.
Our Tour Group were next driven to Bayreuth, and on the way there stopped to visit Framus Museum in Markneukirchen, where over 200 instruments produced between 1946 and 1979 were on display – quite different from the ancient instruments we’d seen earlier. We arrived at Bayreuth early afternoon, and were quite amazed at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof at which we stayed at for two nights. A metallic statue of a seated Richard Wagner was located right next to an area where people could buy drinks, sit on stools or armchairs. I couldn’t resist sitting on Wagner’s lap and holding his hand.
Once again, a local Guide took us for a walking tour of Bayreuth, where many statues of Wagner were seen, and sites related to Wagner were pointed out. In the afternoon we visited the Festspielhaus, which of itself included a guided tour, who explained with a lovely clear voice that all the features of the theatre had been designed according to Wagner’s demands, including an orchestra pit to be built under the front of the stage, hidden from view but ensuring that everyone in the auditorium could hear perfectly. I asked whether current operas were also being staged there, and whether these were being recorded – the answer was ‘yes’.
After our 2 days and nights in Bayreuth, we departed for Regensburg for just one night before heading to Munich, where we stayed for only one day and night. We drove around Munich with a local guide who spoke to us of Wagner, but we had no time to walk through the city streets. After breakfast the following morning, it was time for everyone on the tour group to say farewell and to go to their own home, or wherever else they planned or wished to go. I flew back home.