Four-hour 'Nibelungen' preemed Aug. 11

WORMS, Germany — Dieter Wedel has made many of the most-watched TV films in German history, and at the ripe age of 63 the helmer could be forgiven for spending summers relaxing on some Mediterranean island.

But instead Wedel is spending his fifth straight summer running the Nibelungen Festival in Worms, host to the four-hour production of “The Nibelungen — Siegfried’s Women,” which preemed Aug. 11.

A shorter, modern version of the 13th-century German epic poem “Niebelungenlied”,the play, written by German scribe Moritz Rinke, has little in common with Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” at the Bayreuth fest. This version focuses on one of the saga’s four cycles, about dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians. Despite the lack of resemblance to the epic opera — or perhaps because of it — the Nibelungen festival has grown quickly in both size and stature since its launch in 2002.

“When I first agreed to this five years ago, I thought it would be a chance to do a nice, small summer theater out of the spotlight and away from any media commotion,” Wedel tells Variety. “I never dreamed it would become so big so fast and that all the media would eventually find their way here anyhow. But what I love about this festival is that it has managed to retain a certain intimacy.”

Wedel has been a magnet as artistic director and manager of the fest. It has attracted film thesps such as Sonja Kirchberger and Jasmin Tabatabai to cross over onto the stage this year in front of live — and appreciative — auds that fill a temporary 2,450-seat amphitheater. A record 33,000 are expected to see 14 mostly sold-out performances by the Aug. 26 finale. Wedel also has plucked talent for films from casts at the festival — which may help explain why many thesps are eager to come to Worms.

“What I love about the theater is that you don’t have to worry as much about the results,” Wedel says, referring to pressure in terms of ratings or commercial success. The E4.7 million ($6 million) budget is financed through robust ticket sales as well as state and local arts support.

It’s also been a very good experience for Worms, a Rhine River town of 81,000 that had long struggled with economic woes. The fest — resurrected in 2002 thanks to thesp Mario Adorf’s lobbying of wary local leaders after a less-successful forerunner was discontinued in 1956 — has cast some welcome glamour on the town south of Frankfurt. It has raised not only the name recognition of the medieval burg but given businesses an appreciable boost as well.

Wedel has brought innovations to the festival each summer, and this year included short film sequences on two large screens above the stage. It was an effective use of mixed media for the 2,450 spectators on opening night.

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