We used the occasion of our Sandy-enforced from-the-world-isolated downtime (we were without electric power from Monday a week ago to Monday last; it's sobering to be confronted so directly by just how utterly dependent on electricity is modern everyday life) to read a book we purchased some four years ago but never got around to reading titled Wagner and the Art of the Theatre by Patrick Carnegy (Yale University Press, 2006) and a most informative read it proved to be. The book surveys the high points of the history of Wagner stagings, mostly in Germany with a side trip to Russia, from the Romantic naturalism of Wagner's own staging to the Brechtian "critical" realism of the so-called Bayreuth "Centennial Ring" of Patrice Chéreau of 1976 and as such traces the history of the emergence of what we today refer to as Regietheater; a development which was the product of pressures social, political, and aesthetic. What we found especially interesting was the huge influence upon this slow but sea-change shift in the staging of Wagner's works of the theoretical writings of the then mostly obscure Swiss "theatrical visionary" Adolphe Appia at the turn of the century; an influence that can be observed in all manner of opera stagings of even the present day. Appia was a devout Wagnerian and it was Wagner's works that provoked and impelled the formation of his theories of mise en scène. He was convinced that Wagner's devotion to 19th-century realism (or rather illusion of the real) in his stagings of his own works was not only misplaced but effectively worked to sabotage and betray those works. Appia was right and Wagner should have realized his misstep himself for after Tristan he no longer referred to his music-dramas as examples of Gesamtkunstwerk but as "deeds of music made visible," a belated recognition by him of the primacy of the art of music in music-drama which, contrary to his original theoretical formulation of Gesamtkunstwerk, Wagner finally realized can never be on an equal footing with the other arts but will always reign supreme among them. It was precisely this that Appia seized upon. His solution to the problem of mise en scène in the staging of Wagner's works is complex but is grounded in the conviction that the music, not the text, should always be the controlling factor in determining the mise en scène and that that mise en scène should always be suggestive rather than literal and formed to great extent by light modeling and shaping solid structures and the space defined by them as well as the living bodies (i.e., the singer-actors) that interact with those structures and move about within that space. On Appia's stage, scene painting on drops and flats and the like was, for the most part, consigned permanently to the dust bin of theatrical history. (As we read about Appia's theories we could not help but experience a delicious stab of self-satisfied pleasure when we saw how similar was our own modest thinking in the matter of staging Wagner's music-dramas as set forth in our 2005 S&F entry titled "Staging Wagner's Music-Dramas" which can be read in full here.) What we also found especially interesting was how honest and essentially Werktreue were the early Regietheater stagings of Wagner's works in the sense that none, it seems, attempted to supplant the spirit and sense of Wagner's original theatrical concept by the imposition of the director's own but instead worked to achieve a heightened and more revelatory realization of the drama embodied by the music through the spirit and sense of that original theatrical concept using the music itself as the controlling guide. The first of these Wagner stagings in a major theater to break, at least in part, with the traditional way of staging Wagner's works as established at Bayreuth by Wagner himself and after him by his wife Cosima who ruled Bayreuth for some 23 years after Wagner's death is generally acknowledged to be the Gustav Mahler/Alfred Roller Tristan of 1903 at the Vienna Court Opera where Mahler had reigned as the theater's conductor and general director since 1897. It proved a great success but didn't manage to extend its influence beyond productions mounted at the Court Opera. The next steps were taken by the Russian director Vsevolod Myerhold with his 1909 Tristan for the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Fyodor Komissarzhevsky with his 1918 Lohengrin for the Theater of the Council of Working Deputies (the former Zimin Theater), I. Prostorov's Rienzi of 1923 for the same theater, and, much later, the legendary Sergei Eisenstein with his 1940 Walküre for the Bolshoi. Meanwhile, back in Germany, the great conductor Otto Klemperer had become director of the Kroll Opera in Berlin in 1927 and there, with stage designer Ewald Dülberg, staged in 1929 a Fliegende Holländer that pretty much jettisoned Wagner's original theatrical concept for its own and jettisoned as well the principles of Appian mise en scène in favor of the principles of so-called "critical" staging as devised and promoted by Bertolt Brecht; principles that are the very antithesis of everything Wagnerian; principles producing stagings calculated to force an audience to think rather than feel during a performance; to adopt an actively critical attitude toward what's being performed onstage before their very eyes. This production set the keynote, as it were, for the post-war, Brecht-influenced German productions meant to counter the hugely successful and essentially Werktreue New Bayreuth productions of the Appia-influenced Wieland Wagner in the 1950s and '60s; Brecht-influenced productions such as the 1970 Ring of Ulrich Melchinger, the 1972 Tannhäuser of Götz Friedrich, and the 1973 Ring of Joachim Herz from which the 1976 Bayreuth "Centennial Ring" of the Frenchman Patrice Chéreau took its cue (something of which we were previously unaware). Thus was born Eurotrash (i.e., Konzept) Regietheater; Regietheater that's today the norm rather than the avant-garde exception. (We hasten to make clear that the immediately foregoing declaration is ours and NOT that of the book's author Patrick Carnegy who not only holds that Konzept Regietheater is a perfectly legitimate enterprise but actually applauds its practice.) For those with a more than passing interest in the staging of Wagner's operas and music-dramas we warmly recommend Wagner and the Art of the Theatre for its informed historical survey of the high points of that staging's development from its beginnings up through 1976 and a small bit beyond. We think you'll find the time spent reading its 400 easy-reading pages time well spent.