The Margravial Opera
House (Markgräfliches OperHaus) is one of the last surviving European
theatres dating back to the mid 1700s.
In the words of Stephen Fry
in his documentary Wagner & Me
it is a “Rococo extravaganza” the likes of which is hard to find anywhere else
in Europe. The ornamentation is truly
breathtaking, beyond gaudy in its plethora of decoration. It transports you back to a time when this
late Baroque style was the supreme example of an age. On my first day in Bayreuth I saw the exterior of the theater where I took this picture with my iPhone. Tomorrow I hope to visit and see the marvelous interior, this time armed with my Nikon D90.
The theatre was already one hundred years old by the time
the young Richard Wagner conducted
here. For him this place represented
what he hated most about theatre going in his day. From among its statues of angels and crystal
chandeliers, royalty and the very rich came to this jewel box to see and be
seen. The lights would remain lit during
a performance, and audiences typically arrived late, talked during the show, and
usually left early. It was a place to
admire social superiors in their gilded boxes and scoff at social
inferiors. Meanwhile, the performance would
dribble on in the background, no more important than “musak” in a modern elevator.
Thanks to Wagner’s experiences in this theatre and in others
like it, he began to formulate particular ideas about what makes a theatre
piece, and how audiences should behave during one. For starters, Wagner was the first to conduct
turning away from the audience, a concept that reached its zenith in the hidden
orchestra pit at the Festspielhaus,
where neither the orchestra nor the conductor is seen at all. It was also Wagner’s idea to turn off the
lights in the theatre so that the audience could concentrate on the action on
stage, and not on the social interactions in the boxes out in the audience.
These were radical concepts from one of the most radical
minds of the nineteenth century.
Interesting that many of these ideas simmered in the mind of the young
Wagner while conducting in one of the most beautifully ornate, but conservative
minded theatres in the world.