Richard Wagner’s world was revealed to a group of 30 students and faculty members on April 8 at the lecture “Beyond the Mystic Chasm: Wagner Conjures for the Theater.”
The lecture, held at 4 p.m. in the Dailey Theatre and presented by Sean Dillon, assistant professor of theater arts, was part of the “Ring La Verne” series.
Dillon discussed the unique context in which Wagner staged his operas by designing a theater that catered specifically to the experience he wanted his audience to have.
“The mystic chasm is what was created between the audience and the stage,” Dillon said.
In creating the perfect place for his operas to be housed, which would eventually be the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, or festival house, Wagner put great thought into how he wanted his operas to feel for those watching it.
In this regard, Wagner believed that the audience should be immersed in the opera, and wanted them to see it as if in a dream.
This mystic chasm is what places the audience in a dream-like world and allowed the audience to lose themselves.
To achieve this effect Wagner created his Festspielhaus in a way that completely hid the orchestra.
Because of the acoustic shells that were built, even audience members in the first row were unable to see the orchestra pit.
“The experience of the audience was something that was very important to him,” Dillon said.
Because of this, he built his opera house in a way very different from others.
Normally in those days, opera houses were a place to be seen.
It was more about seeing who was in attendance than actually watching the opera, and for this reason the seating was very hierarchical, Dillon said.
Boxes lined the walls of those opera houses so that everyone could see everyone else.
But in Wagner’s Festspielhaus all of the seating was equal.
“Every seat was for the same class of person,” Dillon said.
Wagner designed his opera house with fan-shaped seating so each seat faced the stage.
He believed that the audience experience is all about witnessing the work of art rather than watching the people around you.
Wagner’s Festspielhaus differed from the ordinary opera house in other ways as well.
While most of them were built in the middle of large towns, Wagner decided to build his in the small town of Bayreuth.
Wagner wanted his Festspielhaus to stand prominently above the town so everybody could see its presence.
“He wanted the place in which it sat to be an idyllic approach,” Dillon said. “He wanted it to be a place of pilgrimage.”
“He felt that drama was the greatest expression of a total artwork,” Dillon said.
Audience members enjoyed themselves as they learned about Wagner’s life and work.
“It was very well put together and it was very interesting to see the process of thinking about building a theater and all of its specifications,” said Rachael Nakatani, senior English major.
Wagner’s views were brought to life with the help of pictures and videos of his Festspielhaus.
“I like going to theaters,” said Brittany Lawrence, a sophomore English major. “I thought it was very good how it showed all of the pictures of how it was built.”
The “Ring La Verne” series will conclude with “Drama in Wagner’s Ring: Music Propels the Action” presented by Kathleen Lamkin, professor of music, at 7 p.m. on April 21 in the Campus Center.
Debbie Allison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.