Discussion:
To Scene, or Not to Scene
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REP
2018-06-14 16:26:36 UTC
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Parsifal is Wagner's only music drama not divided into scenes. Is there any significance to this?

Personally, I've always considered Wagner's division of scenes to be somewhat arbitrary: There's obviously some underlying logic, but it doesn't always seem consistently applied. For example, Siegfried's arrival at the hall of the Gibichungs in Gotterdammerung warrants a scene break, but Brunnhilde's arrival at the same hall at the conclusion of the same opera does not.

Are scene breaks just the dramatic equivalent of rehearsal marks -- useful for performers, but largely irrelevant to audiences? Or was Wagner doing something revolutionary by dispensing with them in his final opera?*

REP

* For what it's worth, if the online libretti I found are to be trusted, Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot, and Rienzi don't appear to be divided into scenes either.
Bert Coules
2018-06-14 17:02:43 UTC
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Post by REP
Are scene breaks just the dramatic equivalent of
rehearsal marks -- useful for performers, but
largely irrelevant to audiences?
I'd say they're completely irrelevant to audiences.
REP
2018-06-14 18:09:37 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
Are scene breaks just the dramatic equivalent of
rehearsal marks -- useful for performers, but
largely irrelevant to audiences?
I'd say they're completely irrelevant to audiences.
That was my thinking as well, but it's nice to hear it from someone with more theatrical experience than me.

In terms of scenic structure, Parsifal looks just like any of Wagner's other music dramas to my eyes. So much so that if Wagner had written scene breaks, I think we would probably all agree on where they would fall. Just for fun, this is how I would do it:

Act I
Scene Two: Parsifal's entrance
Scene Three: Monsalvat

Act II
Scene Two: Parsifal and the Flower-maidens
Scene Three: Kundry and Parsifal alone

Act III
Scene Two: Parsifal's entrance
Scene Three: Monsalvat

REP
Bert Coules
2018-06-14 18:49:13 UTC
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I've never given it properly serious thought but Wagner's scene breaks do
seem interestingly pointless. You mentioned that they might be useful for
performers in rehearsal , but even there the advantages slightly elude me.
For the actors, "OK, let's try scene four" is not noticeably more precise
than "OK, let's go from Siegfried's arrival" or whatever, and actually it's
far less useful, since in my experience most actors, singing or otherwise,
can relate to - and remember - the latter far better than the former. And
away from the stage, the time-honoured musical method (at least for
orchestral payers or rehearsal pianists) of designating particular points is
by bar number.

I wonder if he could have been influenced, even unconsciously, by the act
and scene divisions in Shakespeare and other earlier writers? If so,
possibly he didn't realise that they were mostly added by later editors,
often quite arbitrarily.
REP
2018-06-14 19:35:41 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
I've never given it properly serious thought but Wagner's scene breaks do
seem interestingly pointless. You mentioned that they might be useful for
performers in rehearsal , but even there the advantages slightly elude me.
For the actors, "OK, let's try scene four" is not noticeably more precise
than "OK, let's go from Siegfried's arrival" or whatever, and actually it's
far less useful, since in my experience most actors, singing or otherwise,
can relate to - and remember - the latter far better than the former. And
away from the stage, the time-honoured musical method (at least for
orchestral payers or rehearsal pianists) of designating particular points is
by bar number.
Ideally, scene breaks should only coincide with scene changes, as in Das Rheingold. If they also separate dramatic moments, then the divisions become far less intuitive, as you suggest. After all, we all know that Scene 3 of Das Rheingold is set in Nibelheim, because that's the third set we see, but what about Scene 3 of Act II of Die Walkure? There are no set changes in that act, so unless you're familiar with the score or Wagner's dramatic methods, you can only guess at the location of scene breaks.
Post by Bert Coules
I wonder if he could have been influenced, even unconsciously, by the act
and scene divisions in Shakespeare and other earlier writers?
Dividing operas into scenes is a long-standing tradition, isn't it? Don Giovanni and Norma, for example, both have scenes, and Wagner admired them both.
Post by Bert Coules
If so,
possibly he didn't realise that they were mostly added by later editors,
often quite arbitrarily.
That I didn't know. But it makes sense. I've always found Shakespeare's scene breaks rather arbitrary -- the act breaks too. (In fact, I've never been able to tell the difference.) I find the whole five-act structure rather unintuitive to begin with. I always find myself trying to re-divide the action into three acts in my head, which rarely works out.

REP
Bert Coules
2018-06-14 20:29:53 UTC
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Ideally, scene breaks should only coincide with scene changes...
An ideal only slightly complicated by the fact that (with one exception)
every "true" scene change (which is to say a change of setting) in the Ring
happens gradually - or at least does so if there's even a slight resemblance
to the original stage directions.

My Schirmer vocal scores neatly get around this by printing the scene
headings at the top of the nearest available new page, even if the music and
the textual descriptions have started the transition already.

Whatever the practical problems of pinpointing the changes might be, at
least "new location" designations are logical and useful. The others - as
we seem to agree - serve precious little purpose.
REP
2018-06-14 20:49:04 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
Ideally, scene breaks should only coincide with scene changes...
An ideal only slightly complicated by the fact that (with one exception)
every "true" scene change (which is to say a change of setting) in the Ring
happens gradually - or at least does so if there's even a slight resemblance
to the original stage directions.
You've stumped me. What's the exception?

REP
Bert Coules
2018-06-14 23:12:32 UTC
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Post by REP
You've stumped me. What's the exception?
The only time in the entire cycle (apart from the ends of the individual
operas) when Wagner specifies that "The curtain falls" (and "swiftly",
too) - "Der Vorhang fällt schnell": between the Prologue and Act One of
Götterdämmerung.
Bert Coules
2018-06-14 23:28:59 UTC
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I meant of course,

...apart from the ends - and the ends of acts - of individual operas...

Apologies.

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