chapter  IV
Pages 20

When the Superior Person - myself, for instance - takes it upon himself to disparage burlesque, opera bouffe, musical farce, and Christmas pantomime as the mere sillinesses and levities of the theatre, let him not forget that, but for them, our players would have no mimetic or plastic training, and the art of the stage machinist, the costumier, the illusionist scene-painter would be extinct. The late Sir Augustus Harris’s description of Wagner’s Das Rheingold as ‘a damned pantomime’ was, on its own plane, a thoroughly sound one. For suppose the theatre had been given over entirely throughout this century to plays of the Robertson and Pinero school, performed in the Hare-Bancroft style, in built-in stage drawing rooms, by actors tailored and millinered as they would be for a fashionable At-home, Das Rheingold would in that case have been impossible: nobody would have known how to work the changes, to suspend the Rhine maidens, to transform Alberich into a dragon, to assemble the black clouds that are riven by Donner’s thunderbolt, or to light up Froh’s rainbow bridge. Under such circumstances, some of the most magnificent pages in the Rheingold score would not have come into existence; for your great man does not waste his work on the impracticable. And pray how was it that Wagner found the stage machinists ready for the series of landscape and seascape effects which we find in his most characteristic works? Nay, how did the much simpler stage illusions of Der Freischütz, Oberon, and Robert le Diable becomes possible before the Bayreuth epoch? The answer surely is that during all those years which are marked for us in theatrical annals only by events in the careers of great artists, there must have been a continual output of ballets, extravaganzas, and fairy plays of all sorts, in which the phantasmagoric properties of paint and pasteboard, traps and transformations, red fire and green glasses, were studied and cultivated much more practically and incessantly than the five species of counterpoint. To experts in this odd craft, Das Rheingold was no impossible dream, but simply 'a damned pantomime’. It is clear to me, then, that we owe the present enormously effective form of the Nibelung tetralogy, a work which towers among the masterpieces of the world’s art, to the persistence of just such entertainments as Aladdin.