Last Wagner Premier for the ‘Bayreuth of the North’?
On Saturday 26th April more than 800 opera lovers arrived at the Anhaltisches Theatre, Dessau for the premier of Wagner's "Parcifal"; a new production by the Anhaltisches Theatre. Dessau draws crowds not just from Dessau and the surrounding area, but from as far afield as Hamburg. The theatre has a long-standing history of performing Wagner operas, and has indeed been referred to as the ‘Bayreuth of the North’. But what was unusual about this premier was that until just 20 minutes before curtain up, musicians and technical staff were standing outside the theatre handing out leaflets to the public. Planned funding cuts to the arts in Saxony-Anhalt, and the corresponding job cuts at the theatre in Dessau (up to 70 employees are in danger of losing their jobs) could mean that last Saturday’s premier might have been the very last Wagner premier to take place in Dessau. With an orchestra reduced from 83 to 66, job cuts in the chorus, technical and stage-building departments, such large productions could in the future be impossible. Musicians and technical staff felt the public should be made aware of this fact, and the leaflets were asking for support for the theatre.
When other civil servants are threatened with job cuts, pay cuts or changes in working conditions, they go on strike. It affects a huge number of people when the rubbish is not collected, when the trains are not running. But theatre-people do not have this ‘luxury'. It would have affected around 800 people on Saturday if the musicians, singers and technical team had refused to perform. But does that mean that the job that they are doing is less important? The decline of the theatre in Dessau may not affect the day-to-day lives of most people in the town, but it would seriously affect their quality of life, the education of their children, their right to be able to see opera and musical, hear great symphonies and see plays, indeed the cultural richness and diversity of the town. The planned job cuts will start the decline of a theatre that has a history going back more than 200 years and will certainly see the end of the ‘Bayreuth of the North.’