Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 15:12 UK

Wagner says goodbye to Bayreuth

Wolfgang Wagner
Wolfgang Wagner has been in sole charge of the event since 1967

Wolfgang Wagner has bid farewell to the Bayreuth opera festival in Germany after 57 years at the helm.

The 88-year-old blinked back tears as the annual music festival, founded by his grandfather - composer Richard Wagner, came to a close on Thursday.

"I hope you leave the stage a happy man," said festival spokesman Peter Emmerich, in a speech to Wolfgang.

Wolfgang's tenure officially comes to an end on Saturday, but the battle to become his successor remains wide open.

Wolfgang agreed to step down as head of the prestigious music festival earlier this year.

Family feud

Wolfgang and his brother Wieland took charge of the festival in 1951, but following the death of his brother, Wolfgang became the sole director in 1967 - leading the festival single-handedly for more than 40 years.

In 2001, the festival's board of directors, which includes Bavarian federal and state government, tried to force the ageing Wolfgang to step down by naming his daughter from his first marriage, 63-year-old Eva Wagner-Pasquier, to take over.

But Wolfgang refused to quit the post, dismissing Eva as incompetent and claiming his tenure was for life.

Bayreuth Festival
Katharina Wagner organised a public viewing at this year's festival

However, following the death of his second wife and longtime assistant, Gudrun, Wolfgang relented.

Earlier this year, he approved a joint application to run the festival by Katharina Wagner, his 30-year-old daughter with Gudrun, and Eva, who is currently artistic consultant at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France.

Katharina organised the first live web broadcast and public viewing of an opera from Bayreuth this year - and has been credited with opening up the festival to new audiences.

Last minute bid

The matter appeared to be resolved - until Wolfgang's 63-year-old niece, Nike Wagner, submitted an unexpected application with renowned Belgian director Gerard Mortier.

Mortier, who helped bring about a successful resurgence of the Salzburg Festival, is to become general manager and artistic director of the New York City Opera in autumn 2009.

For her part, Nike runs the Perelinages festival in nearby Weimar.

The terms of the festival state that control must remain in the hands of the Wagner family, unless there are no suitable candidates.

The festival's ruling body, the Stiftunsgrat, will convene next week to name the successor.

The first Bayreuth Festival, directed by Richard Wagner himself, was held in 1876.

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