International May Festival
At the time of Wilhelm II's reign as German emperor, Wiesbaden had become Germany's most modern spa town. In accordance with Richard Wagner's festival aspirations in Bayreuth, Georg von Hülsen, the artistic director of the royal court opera, came up with the idea to regularly host a 'Spring Festival' in Wiesbaden, which would serve to turn the occasion of the emperor's stay at the spa into a representatively artistic and social event.
And so, 'by the highest order,' the first Maifestspiele (May Festival) was held from 6-19 May, 1896, in the presence of the emperor and empress. Following the years between 1914 and 1928, in which no festivals were organized, Artistic Director Dr. Paul Bekker began to strengthen the independent artistic efforts of Wiesbaden's theatre, then known as the 'Preußisches Staatstheater' (Prussian State Theatre), which had primarily hosted guest performances of Berlin's royal opera until that time. From then on, numerous debuts and world premieres of operas and plays as well as guest performances by the likes of the Vienna Staatsoper, the Grand Opéra National de Paris and the Roman Opera were included in the artistically ambitious and progressive festival program.
Since 1962, artistic directors such as Dr. Claus Helmut Drese and Alfred Sistig have opened a 'window to the East' by incorporating renowned guest productions of operas and ballets from Warsaw, Leningrad, Sofia, Bucharest, Moscow and the great theatres of former East Germany into the program of the 'Internationale Maifestspiele.' Under the artistic direction of Claus Leininger and Achim Thorwald, the Maifestspiele increasingly began to present guest productions from northern Europe, Spain and the USA. Additionally, more possibilities were offered for children's theatre and youth productions. Now under the artistic direction of Manfred Beilharz, the Maifestspiele has become one of the most distinguished, internationally esteemed theatre festivals in Germany with its offerings of international guest productions of operas, dance performances and plays as well as contributions from the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden itself.
With outstanding guest performances from the Berliner Ensemble, the Schaubühne Berlin, the Deutsches Theater Berlin or the Münchner Kammerspiele in the past few years, the Maifestspiele has succeeded in inviting many of the theatre productions that are chosen to perform shortly thereafter at the Theatertreffen festival in Berlin. The greatest guest opera productions from Prague, History Warsaw, Tel Aviv, Riga, Dublin and Lisbon as well as the gala performances of the Wiesbaden theatre's own contributions display top-caliber casts in select musical theatre productions. In the past few years, the Maifestspiele has additionally been able to feature works of classical and modern dance, ballet and dance theatre by the most highly acclaimed dance companies, including the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre Taiwan, the Tanztheater Pina Bausch Wuppertal, the Cullberg Ballet Sweden, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo and the Nederlands Dans Theater. Solo programs, readings, recitals, concerts with electronic music, cabaret, artistic circus acts and orchestra concerts round off the vast spectrum of events offered by the Internationale Maifestspiele, making it the standard-setter in terms of exhibiting worldwide theatrical achievements.