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Adolph Hitler and Winifred Wagner

Richard Wagner and his music mean a lot of things to a lot of people all over the world. Being a "Wagnerian" signifies belonging to an eccentric, exclusive yet cosmopolitan club. 

Take Francis Monk-Mason, for example. The gregarious seventysomething bachelor lives peacefully with two Labradors in the leafy Nairobi suburb of Karen. Come August, as he has done for many years, he will be on the plane to Germany to see the latest staging of Wagner's masterpieces in the maestro's very own opera house.

The classical building on top of a green hill (it is even known as Der Hügel) dominates the friendly, unhurried Bavarian town of Bayreuth. Richard Wagner himself chose the peaceful location because he wished his music to be enjoyed free from distraction. The Bavarian King Ludwig II obliged. 

Since 1876 Bayreuth has performed — with some notable interruptions — a cycle of ten "music dramas", the most famous of which is undisputedly Wagner's masterpiece, The Ring. Germany's rich, aristocratic and famous as well as a tightly-knit global commune of Wagner lovers, the so-called "Friends of Wagner", who are also generous donors, descend upon the festival, to see and be seen. 

With only a couple of weeks to go before  the premiere of this year's Bayreuther Festspiele on July 25, the mother of all opera festivals resembled a sleeping beauty. Flowerbeds needed weeding, windows were dusty, doors locked, while a stray handyman prepared one of the seven rehearsal stages. 

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