WAGNER AND THE BALLET
THE difficulties which have always stood in the path of a realisation of Wagner's ideals in regard to the ballet in opera are worthy of some consideration, because they are the results of a high conception of the functions of the dance in the drama. Wagner troubles in this department began with his "Rienzi." In his "Communication" he says: "I by no means hunted about in my material for a pretext for a ballet, but with the eyes of the opera composer I perceived in it a self-evident festival that Rienzi must give to the people, and at which he would have to exhibit to them in dumb show a drastic scene from their ancient history, this scene being the story of Lucretia and the consequent expulsion of the Tarquins from Rome." He confesses in a note that this ballet had to be omitted from all the stage performances of "Rienzi."
Why? Simply because the pantomimic ballet called for imagination on the part of the ballet-master and mimetic skill in the dancers. If these elements in the ballet were wanting in Wagner's day, they are almost all restored now. Except in cases where the ballet is seen by the spectator to be a mere entertainment for the personages on the stage, as in the garden scene of "Les Huguenots," it ought to have some connection with the drama. That later composers than Wagner have had some desires of this sort is proved by the presence of the Brocken scene in Boïto "Mefistofele," the inferno scene in Franchetti "Asrael," and other such episodes. But nowhere is there such an opportunity for a highly significant ballet as in the first scene of "Tannhaüser."
Whoever cares to read it, may find in the essay of Wagner on the "Art-work of the Future" a long disquisition on the nature of the dance. In brief, he says that in the dance the material is man himself, and the method of expression is motion. This motion is governed by
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Publication information: Book title: Richard Wagner, His Life and His Dramas:A Biographical Study of the Man and an Explanation of His Work. Edition: 2nd. Contributors: W. J. Henderson - Author. Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1923. Page number: 489.
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