With the death of Dieter Wedel, who was accused of rape, the MeToo topic briefly returned to the public agenda this week. What was it like when several actresses accused Wedel of massive assaults in a report by “Zeit Magazin” in 2018?
MeToo had arrived in Germany after the revelations about US film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who had since been convicted.
Suddenly it became clear: Sexual and structural abuse of power, as well as the associated cartels of silence, exist in the local culture and media world just as in other areas of society. The supposedly good, true, beautiful – soiled.
Apparently less has happened since then than many thought. No sooner have the obituaries for Wedel appeared than the “Nordbayerischer Kurier” shocks the music world with research into MeToo cases at the Bayreuth Festival, three days before the season opens after two years stricken by the pandemic on the Green Hill with a new “Tristan” , in the presence of former Chancellor Angela Merkel. As if Bayreuth didn’t already have enough problems due to the recent Corona-related reshuffle.
Sexual assaults in Bayreuth, the keeper of the grail of classicism, of high culture par excellence? The report is tough, as festival director Katharina Wagner herself is one of those affected. A “well-known performer” at the festival is said to have touched her chest and clearly indicated that he wanted to sleep with her.
“That is true,” the 44-year-old boss is quoted as saying. She did not want to give the name known to the “courier” – because she knew how to defend herself. What she confirms, however, is that other people also said sexist things to her.
The “Nordbayerischer Kurier” also knows the names of other employees of the 800-person festival company, women below the executive floor who, according to their own information, were sexually harassed. It’s about physical assaults, clear sex desires and body bashing, about “pick-up lines, hugging, just grabbing women’s hands, hardly keeping your distance, frequent text messages with ‘invitations’ from men,” the article says.
When “Kurier” asked, Katharina Wagner reported immediately and was appalled by the incidents she was not aware of. She will respond “mercilessly,” she said.
The MeToo topic had faded into the background in the course of the more recent crises, from the pandemic to the Ukraine war and the increasingly dramatic climate change. Yes, it is processed, not only cases of abuse, but also authority posturing. The anonymous musicians’ allegations against Daniel Barenboim’s management style and the reports of an atmosphere of fear in the Staatskapelle shocked Berlin.
At least addressing the lack of equality in the management floors of cultural institutions or in the direction of TV hits such as “Tatort” is gradually paying off. Women are more and more in the limelight, recently a number of female directors won bears, lions and palm trees at the big film festivals, and finally Oscars too. More women than ever are conducting, in big houses, with well-known orchestras.
Nevertheless, there is a huge discrepancy between the promise of the traffic light government and the feminist Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth, to make the gender pay gap transparent in culture and the media, and a message like the one from Bayreuth. As far as real, sustainable, structural changes are concerned, at best a start has been made.
Example Siegfried Mauser. The former rector of the Munich Music Academy was convicted of sexual offenses in 2018 and 2019, including sexually assaulting the harpsichordist Christine Schornsheim. The sentence was not carried out because he was in Austria – Mauser also has citizenship there. In this country hardly anyone got upset about it. He only began his sentence in the Salzburg prison in February.
Example Christian Thielemann, music director in Bayreuth until the end of 2020. The “Nordbayerisches Kurier” also made anonymous accusations against him for choleric and misogynist statements. Among other things, he is said to have mocked the fact that there were too many women in the orchestra: one double bass player instead of two, that was enough.
Thielemann himself calls the allegations “unfounded”, it is at most a “misunderstanding”, not least because everyone in the Festspielhaus wears a mask. However, the “Kurier” has his comment on the bassists in the form of an email.
Now the undiplomatic behavior of the artistically outstanding Wagner conductor is nothing new. In 2016, Andris Nelsons canceled his conducting of the “Parsifal” premiere in Bayreuth at short notice because Thielemann had interfered too much in his rehearsals. Thielemann’s contract with the Salzburg Easter Festival ended in 2019, his Bayreuth job ended a year and a half ago, and there will also be no contract extension beyond 2024 with the Sächsische Staatskapelle. Again and again there was talk of discord and power struggles.
When Oksana Lyniv, a woman, stood at the desk in Bayreuth for the first time in 2021, Thielemann said in ZDF’s “heute-Journal” that he thought that was a good sign. And added, unchallenged: “The ladies who are capable should show that they can do it”. This is what paternalism sounds like at prime time.