|From Scientific American
Vol. XC - No. 6
FEBRUARY 6, 1904
THE NEW STAGE OF THE
METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE,
REBUILT FOR THE PRODUCTION OF PARSIFAL
THE PRODUCTION OF GRAND OPERA.
what splendid names to conjure with! Now, thanks to the new stage
of the Metropolitan Opera House, we have our own Bayreuth in New
York, where we can give the "solemn festival play."
There is absolutely no reason why "Parsifal"
should not be produced in New York rather than in a small, uncomfortable,
and highly expensive Franconian town. The Wagnerian idea is to carry
the book, the music, the scenery, as a concrete proposition. He
wrote the words and the music, designed the whole stage setting,
and was his own conductor and stage manager, so we have a case of
undivided responsibility. The musical world trembled when it was
suggested that "Parsifal," the Holy of Holies, was to
be performed in New York; but it has been done, and in the opinion
of some critics as well done as at Bayreuth, or even better.
"Parsifal," more than any other of Wagner's
operas, depends upon the appeal to the mind through the eye.
The mise en scène of this imposing
pageant requires great resourcefulness on the part of the stage
director. When it was decided to give "Parsifal," a new
stage became imperative, and the services of Technical Director
Carl Lautenschläger, of Munich, were secured, and in conjunction
with Mr. Theo. G. Stein, the architect, a modern stage was installed,
capable of making quick changes and transformations. It was their
aim to build a stage which would also minimize the amount of labor
and render hitches and accidents almost impossible, and that they
succeeded admirably is shown by the enthusiasm which the scenic
and mechanical effects provoked. The first visit to a stage is always
a revelation; the vast size of the room, the rising and dropping
scenery, the under-stage mechanism, the lights and the orderly confusion,
all tend to cast a rosy light on the theatrical life.
A few generalities are in order. The audience really
sees a very small portion of the stage, for behind the curtain is
a rectangular structure much higher than the roof of the auditorium.
This great height is rendered necessary in order to raise the hanging
scenes bodily, without resorting to the necessity of rolling them
up. Everything above the arch of the proscenium is termed the "flies."
The stage proper is the rectangular platform on which the players
or singers stand. The sides of the stage are termed the "wings,"
and here the singers and ballet enter through the various so-called
"entrances," the number depending on the number of "wings."
The stage is divided width-wise into
sections, and these sections of the stage floor can be raised above
or lowered below the stage, depending on their construction, so
that whole scenes can be raised or lowered as the case may be, or
mountains or other high places built up in a short time. Great
depth of cellar is necessary in order to permit of whole scenes
being lowered. The top of the stage is known as the "gridiron"
or "rigging loft;" it consists of a slotted floor adapted
to carry sheaves for the ropes which serve to support the drop scenes,
borders, and gas battens which formerly carried the gas lights and
now serve to carry the electric lights. To insure uniform motion
and to distribute the weight, there are five ropes to each scene
or border, and they pass over pulleys ranged at equal intervals
across the width of the gridiron. There are 63 sets of ropes in
the new Metropolitan Opera House stage, and the weights to be borne
are all counterweighted so that the cloths can all be worked from
the first fly gallery as easily as a dumbwaiter. The counterweights
are inclosed to prevent accidents. Twenty-eight flymen now do the
work of sixty.
In "Parsifal," it is necessary
to have two elaborate transformation scenes, and this is accomplished
by means of panoramas, four in number, situated in the wings and
secured at the upper end to the first fly gallery. The panoramas
are huge spools 36 feet long, and the painted canvas is reeled from
one spool on one side of the stage to the other. The panoramas are
suspended from a trolley serving to carry the weight of the canvas
in its width-wise passage along a wire. With the aid of the panoramas,
it is possible to produce the remarkable change from the woodland
scene to the stately Hall of the Grail Knights, while Gurnemanz
and Parsifal appear to be walking the entire distance. The movements
of the various panoramas, are accurately timed and the effect is
We now come to the under machinery,
which is elaborate, but still very simple. We have already referred
to the "bridges" or movable sections of the stage. At
the Metropolitan, the first four are adapted to sink, carrying the
scenery, properties, etc., with them; they can also be used to raise
whole scenes, saving interminable waits. When a bridge is to be
used to raise scenery which rests on its deck or floor, the floor
of the stage must be removed. Instead of being taken up in, sections
like trap doors, ropes are attached underneath that portion of the
floor of the stage which is superimposed over the bridge. These
ropes pass over pulleys and then to winches. The flooring. corresponding
to the length of the bridge is taken out in two sections, one right,
one left. This is accomplished by means of two pieces of the flooring
which are depressed slightly at one end, allowing the two sections
of flooring to store themselves in grooves underneath the fixed
floor of the wings. The bridge is now raised by two men operating
a winch. The bridges are heavily counterweighted so that the labor
is comparatively light, The bridges are 42 feet 9 1/2 inches long,
3 feet 8 inches and 2 feet 8 inches wide. Their depth is 21 feet.
In the magic garden of Klingsor, the entire kiosk and scenery is
let down into the cellar by the bridges, producing an awful scene
of destruction. It is prefaced by a short scene which shows us the
magician's tower, and we have selected this scene for the drop scene
shown. The back drop and borders are raised, while the "practicable"
(to use stage parlance) staircase is lowered. The construction of
the bridges is such that a trap can be inserted anywhere while they
are down, a great improvement over the old fixed traps where you
know in advance exactly where Mephistopheles will go down or Hamlet's
father's ghost come up. Special movable traps run in the spaces
between the bridges and can be located at any point.
The side scenes, or wings, are also
worked mechanically. They are secured to movable trolleys or chariots
which run on the floor of the first story of the cellar. This enables
the stage to be kept clear and also facilitates the rapid and accurate
setting of scenes. The three bridges at the back are counterweighted
and are adapted to rise up 23 feet above the stage to imitate rocks,
etc. They can also be run up in sections and fulfill a very useful
purpose. While it may appear that all these devices are very simple,
yet they are interesting for the reason that everything, even to
the panoramas, is worked manually. Herr Lautenschläger has
built some very complicated stages, including six revolving stages.
He is inclined to think that a stage like the present, or a revolving
stage, is best adapted to the needs of grand opera. A revolving
stage is to be built at an early date in New York city.