Markgräfin Wilhelmine

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In 2009, my family and I lived in the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth, Germany, and my daughter Maggie attended the Markgräfin Wilhelmine Gymnasium. Almost 300 years earlier, Margravine Wilhelmine had come to the small Franconian town to marry Crown Prince Friedrich. When she first arrived, she found Bayreuth to be provincial and unexciting, and she set her sights on transforming it into a European cultural center. She was deeply committed to supporting the arts and wanted to live in a city with architecture and parks that would express her artistic vision. She was a painter, musician, and writer, and she corresponded with Voltaire and other great intellectuals and artists of the day. To celebrate the marriage of her daughter, she commissioned the building of a magnificent Baroque opera house in the center of town, the Margravial Opera House. She composed operas to be performed there and acted and directed in them. After she died in 1758, the Opera House wasn’t used for over 100 years. Then, in 1870, the Opera House attracted composer Richard Wagner because the stage’s depth would accommodate his elaborate opera productions. Today, the famous Wagner Opera Festival is held in Bayreuth every summer, with eager opera fans sometimes waiting years to get tickets. Thus, Wilhelmine’s vision was fulfilled and Bayreuth’s status as the Opera Capital of the World was secured. The Margravial Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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