Sets, Costumes, Lights, and Spectacle

Virginia Anderson

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195385946
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Sets, Costumes, Lights, and Spectacle

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  • Musicology and Music History


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The article focuses on technological and artistic advancements within scenic and lighting design in American musicals. The stagecraft that proved most influential to the American musical was developed in Germany in the late nineteenth century. The composer Richard Wagner from Germany developed an equally influential approach to design with his theory of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total artwork. Wagner called for the complete synthesis of artistic elements, pointing toward opera as the vehicle with the greatest potential for such a totalizing effect. The director/producer/playwright David Belasco signaled the imminent pendulum swing toward the extravagant. Belasco's electrician, Louis Hartmann, with technicians John H. and Anton Kliegl, were devoted to the creation of mood through light, but they tried to create unparalleled realism through lighting. They famously enabled a sunrise to coincide with approximately twenty minutes of action within the saloon setting of Belasco's 1905 play The Girl of the Golden West, using tightly controlled lighting cues. Hartmann's developed the practical lensed spotlight, a device regularly used to separate the stars of musical theater from the chorus. Belasco, Hartmann, and Kliegl developed multiple forms of electronic equipment to advance significantly the lighting technology of the early twentieth century. The advancements in stage machinery enabled audiences to experience a remarkable and precedent setting “transformation scene”, in which a rocky cavern became a fairyland throne room before their eyes.

Keywords: artistic advancements; lighting design; musical theater design; stagecraft; Gesamtkunstwerk; artistic elements

Article.  6717 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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