The Wagner Journal

Edward A. Bortnichak and Paula M. Bortnichak, Kindred Spirits of Meiningen and Bayreuth

Edward A. Bortnichak and Paula M. Bortnichak, Kindred Spirits of Meiningen and Bayreuth

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March 2018, Volume 12, Number 1, 4–26.

By the middle of the 19th century, both legitimate and lyric theatre in western Europe were at a crossroads. The prevailing components of all forms of theatrical art – design, staging, scenography, costuming and acting/singing – all supported the strong audience preference for the grand but generally vapid shows commonly known as ‘spectacle theatre’. In playhouses and opera theatres, great and small, the stage was populated by visiting ‘star’ performers who, costumed (often flamboyantly) to their individual preferences and employing their own particular mannerisms regardless of the material being performed, played to the favour of the audience with little regard to meaningful interaction with the rest of the cast or to the dramatic aims of the piece at hand. In general, theatres were places of popular entertainment, more akin to our modern circuses than to the venues of high art they represent today. Glaringly absent from this list of theatrical ingredients was ‘direction’, as the integration of all elements of stage representation under the coordination and intellectual vision of a professional director (also known as a régisseur), as distinct from the practical management of elements by a stage manager, was yet to emerge on the scene. At mid-century on German stages as well as elsewhere in Europe, realism, with its emphasis on historical accuracy in settings and character portrayal, was starting to take hold and slowly to erode empty pageantry and old-order star-turn histrionics. Into this theatrical world in transition in 1870s Germany entered two theatre practitioners of genius: Georg II, Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, and Intendant of the Meiningen Court Theatre, and Richard Wagner, recently in command of his own theatre in Bayreuth.

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