Bayreuth was not the first choice as a festival location for Wagner’s works. When Richard Wagner first sketched out his festival idea in 1850, his thoughts revolved around Zurich or Weimar, and later also around Munich. The first visit to the city followed in 1871. The opera house turned out to be unsuitable for the purpose of the RING CYCLE, but the composer liked Bayreuth. The foundation stone of the festival theater was laid on May 22, 1872, but shortly thereafter the construction stalled for financial reasons.
It took four years for the Festspielhaus to be completed. That sounds breathtakingly fast for today – but the project almost turned into a disaster for Wagner. The entire company threatened to fail several times, artisans could no longer be paid, and the interest of potential festival guests initially fell short of expectations.
The first festival in 1876 (with the complete Ring Cycle) ended in a financial catastrophe with the equivalent of around 1.1 million euros deficit today. At first there was no prospect of repeating the festival. But Richard Wagner did not give up: in 1878 a financing agreement was negotiated with King Ludwig II. He received an interest-bearing loan of around EUR 750,000, which was repaid from the royalties of the Wagner performances in Munich until 1906. In 1877 Wagner announced the performance of his main works for the “Flying Dutchman” for Bayreuth – realized from 1886 to 1901 by Cosima Wagner. Wagner’s last work “Parsifal” was premiered on July 26, 1882 at the second Bayreuth Festival. Half a year later Richard Wagner died in Venice. His grave is in the garden of the “Wahnfried” house in Bayreuth.
The Bayreuth Festival Hall and its outbuildings (rehearsal stages, workshops, restaurant) have been owned by the Richard Wagner Foundation Bayreuth since 1973. It rents these properties to Bayreuther Festspiel GmbH, founded in 1985, for the purpose of holding the festival.