Few modern German cultural figures have been as admired and universally influential on opera, theater, and art theory as Richard Wagner. Year after year in opera houses around the world, his gods ascend to Valhalla only to fade away in the twilight of their own contradictions in a great variety of productions, although each staging keeps its eye on the worshipped performances at Wagner's original theater in Bayreuth. This theater, designed by Otto Brückwald (exterior) and Karl Brandt (interior), drew from plans that Wagner had worked out with Gottfried Semper. Semper's views on architecture and its capacity to integrate other arts echoed Wagner's own emerging ideas on what would become his theory of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). While the term was not originally Wagner's—the philosopher Karl Friedrich Eusebius Trahndorff first used it in 1827—his theoretical development of an ideal...

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