Roller, Alfred , influential Austrian stage designer and painter; b. Vienna, Oct. 2, 1864; d. there, June 21, 1935. He studied painting at the Vienna Academy. Roller became closely associated with Mahler at the Vienna Court Opera. With Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka et al., he founded the Vienna Sezession, a group of artists whose ideals were at variance with the established orthodoxy of the day. His ideal as a stage designer was to integrate the elements of space, color, and light in an effort to harmonize stage decors with the music and stage action. His slogan, “space, not pictures,” embodied his attempt to discard naturalism in opera productions in favor of a new symbolism. In his production of Tristan und Isolde (1903), which inaugurated his 30–year tenure as chief designer at the Vienna Opera, he allowed a different color to symbolize the mood of each act. The subtle lighting effects he achieved prompted one reviewer to declare “here is the conception of the music of light.” His Wagner productions, which continued with the first 2 parts of the Ring cycle, set new standards throughout Europe. They also had a strong influence on later productions at Bayreuth. In his production of Don Giovanni (1905), he introduced his “Roller towers,” focal points in a stylized stage picture which, remaining on stage throughout the opera, served different purposes as the action progressed. He was also active in Berlin, Salzburg, and Bayrueth. He designed the Dresden premiere productions of Elektra(1909) and Der Rosenkavalier (1911). His subtle and harmonious use of color was also in evidence for the premiere production of Die Frau ohne Schatten (Vienna, 1919). Roller taught at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts for 25 years.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire