The establishment of a festival theatre where, humanly speaking, ideal performances of all the great operas could be given—this was long a dream of Wagner’s. He knew what could be done and how to do it; he knew also that it was not done because managers, conductors, bandsmen and singers had formed careless and slovenly habits, and were blinded by prejudices and traditions surviving from the days of old Italian opera. King Ludwig helped him as far as he could, the good burghers of Bayreuth were ready to give him a site, societies were formed to rake in money; and after apparently interminable preliminary difficulties had been overcome, the business of building the house was begun. It stands high on a hill, away from the centre of Bayreuth—a great structure of red brick and timber, not an imposing piece of architecture by any means, yet not unpleasing to the eye. Inside every seat is arranged so to afford a perfect view of the stage, and the orchestra is in a pit, so as to be unseen, although the singers, wherever they may be placed, can see the conductor. The improvements Wagner made on the stage have themselves been improved on, and in this respect Bayreuth is no better than many other theatres. At the beginning Wagner secured every possible appliance, and then set to work to teach his men how to use them. And it was just in this that he reformed the opera-house: he insisted on everything being done artistically and with the utmost care. Nothing had to be slurred over; every detail had to be carried out as conscientiously as if the fate of empires depended on it. The idea was novel in operatic circles. It aroused opposition; but in the end Wagner got his way, and what was at first declared impossible, then difficult, is now done as a matter of course in all the serious opera-houses. It is in this very matter that Bayreuth has now fallen far behind other German towns, and can no longer be regarded as a serious art centre. In another respect it has departed from the original intention. That was to give model representations of all the fine operas, with the best artists obtainable. But, under the rule of the Wagner family, only Wagner’s works are played; while as for the artists, Mr. Siegfried Wagner—Richard’s son—often directs, although he is an inferior conductor, and petty intrigues are allowed to prevent some of the greatest singers singing there. Wagner’s idea was magnificent, but it needs a Wagner to execute it. However, Bayreuth has done a great service, and now what becomes of it matters to no one.
Bayreuth was opened with performances of the Ring, that enormous music-drama which consists of three huge music-dramas and a shorter one. Now, it was the Ring more than any other of Wagner’s works which led to him being misunderstood, and afforded opportunities for misrepresentation. When the libretto was published, long before the music was written, it was called a monstrosity, and one professor