The Wagner Journal

Wendy Ligon Smith, Mariano Fortuny and His Wagnerian Designs

Wendy Ligon Smith, Mariano Fortuny and His Wagnerian Designs

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November 2017, Volume 11, Number 3, 35–50.

In 1891, a 20-year-old Spanish painter went to the Bayreuth Festival for the first time. This experience – as it had for many other artists – profoundly shaped all of his future artistic endeavours. Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, inspired by Wagner’s music dramas, would go on to invent a revolutionary system of electric stage lighting that worked in harmony with his quarter-sphered dome fitted behind the stage to create horizonless skies that moved and changed in time with the music. Fortuny’s end goal was finally to make possible the technical means by which to bring Wagner’s complex scenography to fruition. The atmospheric descriptions in Wagner’s stage directions – weather-changing skies, sunsets, sunrises, rainbows and lightning – had been impossible to portray realistically until Fortuny completed his lighting system, patented in 1901 and revised in 1907. This innovative method, utilising the immediacy of light, was able to provide decor that was less temporally restricted than static stage sets. 

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