From Scientific American 
Vol. XC - No. 6
FEBRUARY 6, 1904 



"Bayreuth," "Parsifal" – 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 good.

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.