The Festspielhaus (festival theatre) was originally conceived to be a temporary building, since the Margraves’ baroque opera house in Bayreuth could not host the complex stagings, large orchestras and lavish productions of operas like Tristan and Isolde, Lohengrin or the Ring tetralogy.
Wagner’s patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, donated the sum required to build the Festspielhaus. Though rather simple in its exterior looks, the new music temple offered numerous innovations: the principal innovation of the concert hall itself was the orchestra pit, dug below the scene and partly covered by it: with this so called invisible orchestra Wagner wanted the audience to concentrate on the stage happenings and not be distracted by the conductor’s and the musicians’ movements.
For the first time also, the lights in the auditorium went off during performances, so that the audience was even more focused on the stage – after the opening performance of the Ring in 1876, these innovations became habit in all concert and opera halls around the world.
Unlike the traditional, horse-shoe shaped opera house design, the auditorium’s seats are arranged in a so-called “continental seating”, a single steeply shaped wedge following antique amphitheater models. Movie theaters have adopted this style of seating since then, which gives every seat an equal and plain view of the stage.
Getting tickets for performances on the “Green Hill”, a worldwide pilgrimage site for all Wagner-lovers, has become a rather difficult endeavor, with waiting lists of up to 10 years. Since 2008 though, the Festival’s Directors have started opening the event up to a wider audience by allowing some productions to be re-transmitted live on a giant screen in the city of Bayreuth and simultaneously on the web.