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Nineteenth-century theatre


Nineteenth-century theatre describes a wide range of movements in the theatrical culture of Europe and the United States in the 19th century. In the West, they include Romanticism, melodrama, the well-made plays of Scribe and Sardou, the farces of Feydeau, the problem plays of Naturalism and Realism, Wagner's operatic Gesamtkunstwerk, Gilbert and Sullivan's plays and operas, Wilde's drawing-room comedies, Symbolism, and proto-Expressionism in the late works of August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen.

Several important technical innovations were introduced between 1875 and 1914. First gas lighting and then electric lights, introduced in London's Savoy Theatre in 1881, replaced candlelight. The elevator stage was first installed in the Budapest Opera House in 1884. This allowed entire sections of the stage to be raised, lowered, or tilted to give depth and levels to the scene. The revolving stage was introduced to Europe by Karl Lautenschläger at the Residenz Theatre, Munich in 1896.

Throughout the early part of the century, melodrama was the predominant theatrical style: it involved a plethora of scenic effects, an intensely emotional but codified acting style, and a developing stage technology that advanced the arts of theatre towards grandly spectacular staging. It was also a highly reactive form of theatre which was constantly changing and adapting to new social contexts, new audiences and new cultural influences. This, in part, helps to explains its popularity throughout the 19th century.



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