Richard Wagner’s theatre called Bayreuth is absolutely gorgeous and as far as I know pretty distinct of it’s time period. Designed after a Greek amphitheater, the interior was considered very plain in comparison to the ornate opreahouses of Europe.
The rows of seats are tiered and even the way the walls are positioned draw the eye of the audience to the stage. It resembles a modern movie theater. Even the orchestra pit is hidden so as not to distract the audience from the action on the stage. Wagner has also changed the positions of instruments such as the violin in order for the sound to better reverberate off the back of the stage and into the audience.
Perhaps the part I thought was most interesting is the fly space that’s located above the stage that gives the theatre it’s distinct architectural footprint.Essentially a flyspace is where portions of a set are kept until they are lowered for use in a particular scene. Because of the enormous weight of the platforms, below the stage are huge weights that help the crew maneuver the scenery.
If you’d like to view a walk through and other information, this is the official site. It’s available in German and English. I’m a huge fan of the videos, and the man who narrates has a smooth accent. The site also has a list of upcoming shows and a gallery of past performances (which are a hoot to look at).
The theatre was originally designed to be able to show Wagner’s Ring Circle, a story whose mythology is probably more complicated than I can do it justice. Some of the story is very similar to LOTR, written c.100 years before Tolkien. Back when Wagner’s music drama was written (he didn’t believe he was writing opera) going to see a ring circle took about of week of time. In fact, intermissions were held so you could leave and get dinner and then return for a few hours of continuation. In total, a performance of the Ring takes around 15 hours.
The four performances that make up the ring circle are Rheingold, Walküre (Valkyrie) , Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods). The story revolves around a magic ring that was secretly made by a dwarf. Whoever possess the ring rules the world. The King of the Gods, Wotan, and the dwarf are both after the ring.
To make a long story short, the ring end’s up on Siegfried’s finger. Siegfried doesn’t know it, but he’s the Wotan’s grandson. He rescues the Valkyrie, Brünnhilde, and they fall in love. Eventually Siegfried is killed but Brünnhilde is able to return the ring to the Rhine where it was forged. Oh, and the gods all die as well.
It seems as if I’m doing Der Ring des Nibelungen (Ring of the Dwarf?) little justice. I’ve heard portions of it performed and it’s absolutely beautiful the way Wagner assigns each character their own signature melody, or leitmotif. Once you’ve identified the leitmotif brings the music even more to life. The opening of Götterdämmerung, as Siegfried departs from Brünnhilde one morning, is very romantic and reminds me of the score from Cinderella. The leitmotifs of both characters are distinct but don’t take away from the music. I think the entire Ring is just beautiful. In fact, Wagner also wrote one of my favorites, the music drama Tristan and Isolde.
More modern companies that you would think perform the Ring today. The Seatlle Opera will be performing the Ring in August 2009. A two night adaptation with a slimmer cast and orchestra was performed in 1990 in Birmingham and later adapted in Pttisburgh and Long Beach. Each season, Bayreuth also produces the Ring (along with many other works of Wagner’s).
And if you happen to be curious, the title is taken from scene 4 of Rhiengold. It is the opening of Erda’s aria and I believe to mean something loosely translated as “Flee the ring’s dreaded curse…”