60 Years Ago Today

Sunday, 10 August 1052:

At 6 a.m. I was up in the morning and dashed down the street before church to see the making of a big parade, which was coming off during church. A VIP was there to help open St. Lawerence or St. Lorenz Cathedral for the first time since World War II. The pictures of these events were stuck in my head all day. I hurried back just in time to catch the crew going to church.

Despite being built from a bombed out building the church was clean and pleasant. We gave our program and the congregation was receptive to us. We visited with them after church and they presented us with lots of gladiolas after the program. We caravaned to a program for the army which was on our way to Byreuth. We needed to be there by 2 p.m. for another program.

Then we were off to see King Ludwig II Festival or Fespiele House which was built for Wagnerian operas and that was designed by Wagner himself. King Ludwig II greatly admired his work. Wagner’s first performance that he conducted himself was held in 1829. Directors checked with American Express and tried to get tickets for us to Parsifal. We had written in advance but were informed it was a closed performance for the workers. However, luck was with us. We were able to get about 25 tickets at $5.00 each which were made available at the last minute.

We hurriedly tried to read about the opera before we went in. The performance started at 3 p.m. and our seats were scattered throughout the huge auditorium. My seat along with some others was quite close and a little to the side. The performance was excellent probably even more so than I realized with my meager background in Wagnerian opera. The stage was huge and seemed very deep. In some scenes it was almost as if the knights were marching in from miles away. The lighting was most effective. It lasted until 9:20 p.m. with two breaks of 30 minutes each. It was over five hours long.

During these breaks we went into the huge restaurant in the back of the Festival House for refreshment. At one sitting we had an egg caviar dish which was most delicious. Many of the people were dressed formally. It was good that we probably looked better than usual considering we had just come from church that morning. Afterwards, we were somewhat spread around again in different houses or apartment building of different local people. Our place was quite nice.

Provoan ‘Covers’ Bayreuth Music Festival for Herald

(Editor’s note: This is another in a series of letters from Mrs. Afton A. Hansen, traveling through Europe with a group of Utah college students.)

Dear Friends,
You didn’t know, did you that the Daily Herald in Provo has a special reporter, covering the Wagner Music Festival in Bayreuth, Germany? Neither did I , until I discovered that many large cities of the United States have a reporter here, so why not the Herald.

Let me first tell you about Nuremberg, the city where the war criminals were tried and hung. Time has veiled the severity of the scenes, held in the room on the third floor of the Palace of Justice, and in the small yard behind the building. But the mountains of rubble throughout this city and others is a constant reminder of those terrible years. Nature’s vines and weeds will gently cover, wind and rain will partially dissolve, but those monument to man’s stupidity will last for ages.

Memories of Carnage
As we stood on the hill near the old stone wall of the city we saw the statue of Hans Sacks standing untouched in a field of rubble. An old man near us said, “I once stood here and saw those streets below us covered with the dead and the dying.” At one time 85 per cent of the city was either killed or scattered to other parts. A younger man added his story. “I came to Nuremberg from Czechoslovakia in 1946. I came with nothing—only shirts and short pants—no shoes, no stockings. I too am an escapee.” To and fro along the same paths, men are driven by physical and mental fear, danger and cruelty. How long will they take it?

Rising above the dust and rubble of common clay is man’s supreme effort toward the good and best in his nature. The music festivals weave and bind the spirituality and emotion of the past into the artistry of today. Again we see the directors of life and civilization to and fro across the stony paths—from the low to the higher in man’s alms and desires.

Wagner Festival
This Wagner Music Festival, into which the descendants of Richard Wagner put a great deal of effort, is an auspicious occasion. Good luck came our way, through the American Express Company when they announced to us upon our arrival Sunday at Bayreuth, that perhaps we could obtain tickets at ‘workers’ rates, if we so desired, for the early performance of Parsifal given for the workers union. So we paid $5 for $8 seats, the ?pest, and went toward the Festispielhaus to join in the promenade of the fine and fair, in street clothes and opera gowns. Only Americans wore makeup.

To prepare ourselves, we read the English translation of Parsifal, a sacred festival drama written by Wagner. Material for the drama was taken from the wealth of legendary lore, which circles around the mythical chalice of the Holy Grail. In lore, it is said that when Love and pity were about to die on earth, the angels brought to his world, the crystal chalice used by the Savior at the Last Supper, and also the Sacred Spear with which his side was pierced. To house and guard these precious relics, a castle was built from which the Knights journeyed forth daily to champion the weak and suffering. The story drama brings out the healing quality, both physical and spiritual of these precious objects.

“Love-Feast” Prelude
The orchestra prelude opens with the Love Feast motive, which is the commemorative feast of the Knight after the unveiling of the Grail each year when faith has been renewed.

Throughout the drama, the orchestration seemed almost more important than the words and voices. Of course, it was sung in German, which was a barrier to some of us. The graduation of one and of light and shade was so even and so effectively placed that the actors seemed to fade on and off the stage instead of walk.

All action was slow, solemn and profound. At times the only movement on the stage, with 40 to 50 actors, was the effective nod of a head or the movement of one hand, or the sustained note of a violin. During such movements, the sound of my note taking, pencil on paper, seemed too loud.
As the Knights, forty in number, knelt at the round table, each drank from a goblet, and on each face was shown the warm glow from the illuminated Holy Grail, which was on the central round table. The symbolism of spirituality received by the Knights was most effective.

The scene of humble and repentant Kundry washing the feet of Parsifal and drying them with her hair, was beautiful in grouping, action, lighting and atmospheric music.

For six hours we were held spell-bound in the enchantment of this medieval garden, with two hour- periods between acts to promenade and eat. After the first act we ate a piece of delicious peach pie—then the clear notes of a trumpet called us back to the theater. After the second act we ate Russian eggs with caviar. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it, but it was only halved hard boiled eggs decorated with fish eggs, lettuce and mayonnaise. It all added up to a memorable occasion.

During the month of August, the world is also invited to hear Tristan and Isolde, Walker, Siegfried, Meistersingers and other operas. Having seen the first performance, the Herald reporter must move on.

Afton A. Hansen

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