Agence France-Presse

BAYREUTH, Germany, July 28 ó Visitors to this small town this summer may be surprised to see a big black dog sitting at every park bench.
In fact, there are around 800 of them in all, Newfoundlanders, all sitting obediently leashed to the park benches, jaws slightly ajar, tongue hanging as if panting in the afternoon heat.
But don't bother calling SPCA. The dogs are made of plastic and the 70-centimetre-tall figurines are part of a large-scale art installation, entitled "Wagner's Dog", by German sculptor Ottmar Hˆhrl.
Running to coincide with this year's Bayreuth Festival, the annual summer music festival dedicated exclusively to the works of Richard Wagner, the idea behind the exhibition was to help de-mystify the composer and make him appear in a more human, sympathetic light, Hˆhrl said.
Wagner was a dog lover and his own mutt, Russ, is buried alongside the composer in the garden of his villa, Wahnfried, now a museum and home to the Richard Wagner Archives.
"No-one has ever really succeeded in showing Wagner as a sympathetic person. I wanted to take him out of the cult that surrounds him, remove him from the Olympus of art, and make him tangible for people today," the sculptor said.
Even more than 120 years after his death, Wagner remains a controversial figure, and his rabidly anti-Semitic views made him Adolf Hitler's favourite composer.
The legendary Bayreuth festival draws tens of thousands of opera aficionados and Wagner fans to this sleepy provinicial town every summer. Tickets are the most elusive in the classical music world, with the waiting list to get running at 10 years and more. And it is the international political and social elite that rubs shoulders at the Festspielhaus, the opera house designed by Wagner himself, on Bayreuth's fabled Green Hill every year.
In a related exhibition, Hˆhrl said he wanted to bring Wagner to the common people. His installation, entitled "Opera in the 21st century", comprises eight of DaimlerChyrsler's Smart cars parked at eight different points around the town centre.
And passers-by can simply climb in whenever they want and listen to Wagner opera on the car's stereo system.
"We spend a lot of our time in our cars and with their comfy seats and hi-tech sound systems, cars are the ideal place to hear music," Hˆhrl said.
One of Wagner's early and most revolutionary ideas was of an opera for the people. The car was therefore the ideal "opera house of the 21st century," Hˆhrl said.

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