< Theatre Notebook
Vol. 65, No. 3
Stage and Costume Designers Working at the Italian Opera in London: The Evidence of the Librettos 1710-1801
This article aims to lay out before the user some very particular information, that is, all references to personnel in the scenic and costume departments that can be found in the librettos prepared for London’s Italian operas. The project is book-ended by 1710 (the year in which the first London Italian opera was staged entirely in the Italian language) and the 1800-1801 season (which is taken here as closing the eighteenth century). We should be clear at the outset what this information can be held to tell us. For a start, it is sparse and erratic at best until the arrival of Thomas Lupino as a costume designer in 1774. After this date, the printing of a scene or costume designer’s or maker’s name in the libretto is a regular occurrence, and does suggest his presence in London, and some association for that season. It does not, however, guarantee that he was present for the whole season, or that he designed or painted every piece of scenery, or made all the costumes used for that season. On the other hand, the lack of a designer’s name in a libretto simply means that the scene designer or painter was not mentioned; there may well be other evidence showing that he was active during this period and may have contributed to the staging in question. However, the discussion below is, for the most part, intentionally limited to the information contained in the libretto books, given that they represent a very particular part of the process of staging opera, and present their own particular problems.
This article contains one illustration, and an extensive record of “Stage and Costume designers working at the Italian Opera in London”
Matthew Lewis's The Monk and James Boaden's Aurelio and Miranda From Text to Stage
On 29 December 1798, John Philip Kemble staged James Boaden’s Aurelio and Miranda at Drury Lane. The play was an adaptation of Matthew Gregory Lewis’s novel The Monk (1796) which involves a famously pious monk who is tortured and damned after being seduced into committing the most heinous crimes. The novel also includes a substantial subplot involving star-crossed young lovers and the ghost of a Bleeding Nun. Various aspects of Lewis’s text constrained Boaden’s adaptation. Any attempt at an adaptation of The Monk was already problematized by the public opinion of the novel as notoriously irreverent, and the unapologetically graphic physical and psychological horror it contained. The intense psychological aspect of Lewis’s novel did not marry well with Boaden’s methodology, nor did Lewis’s plot meet melodrama’s generic needs of romance and a happy ending. Boaden was left with the overwhelming task of creating a plotline that satisfied these needs from a less-than-ideal source, but that superficially appeared to satisfy his propensity for its Gothic content. While both prose fiction and drama made use of Gothic conventions, the drama was encumbered with a socially supported censorship that maintained absolute standards of eighteenth-century morality, and an uncompromising melodramatic formula which required unambiguously evil villains, the punishment of vice, rewarded lovers, and a unified plotline. In his staged adaptation Boaden deleted or altered episodes and characters and created a catastrophe that conformed to the melodramatic formula and to conventionalized standards of propriety, in order to avoid the difficulty of staging the psychological aspects central to the novel within the confines of the physicalization he felt was required by the stage.
Trilby's Dress: Reception, Inspiration and Interpretation.
Trilby (1895, Her Majesty’s Theatre) is undoubtedly the most widely researched production by actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree in the academic world. Covered in depth by subjects as wide-ranging as English literature/language, history, religious studies, music, performance studies, linguistics and even medicine, the play and the novel offer no scant opportunities to academics of all disciplines. In this context it defines the existing status of work on Tree, fulfilling, in many respects, the function of a traditional literary review. Less explored, however, is the relevance of the play’s costumes to contemporary dress for women, and the many and varied artistic and social points of reference from which inspiration arose. Trilby‘s attraction to modern scholars is probably largely due to its status as a cultural phenomenon. As Mary Titus puts it, the book raised “a chorus of national enthusiasm” with “living pictures” and recitals and, according to a certain Mr Mott, “A new town in Florida was named Trilby … A new three dollar shoe was named the Trilby, and there were Trilby hams, Trilby sausages, and a Trilby hearth brush” (28). The play and novel also indirectly influenced the development of the “Trilby” hat, which appeared in the illustrations, and on stage, several times. Similar in shape to the fedora (also derived from a play – Victorien Sardou’s 1882 Fédora), the trilby was made from felt and featured a narrow brim, often upturned at the front. It became widely available following Trilby’s debut in April 1895 (Garden Theatre, New York), but despite its name had less influence on mainstream women’s fashions than the fedora had a decade previously.
This article includes five illustrations.
There were no book reviews in this issue
Stage and Costume Designers Working at the Italian Opera in London: The Evidence of the Librettos 1710-1801–§– Matthew Lewis’s The Monk and James Boaden’s Aurelio and Miranda From Text to Stage –§– Trilby’s Dress: Reception, Inspiration and Interpretation.