NEW YORK — La Scala, Milan’s fabled opera house, is still months away from reopening after a multiyear restoration project, but opera fans can get a look into its past at a new exhibition at the Dahesh Museum of Art...
NEW YORK — La Scala, Milan’s fabled opera house, is still months away from reopening after a multiyear restoration project, but opera fans can get a look into its past at a new exhibition at the Dahesh Museum of Art here.
“Staging the Orient: Visions of the East at La Scala and The Metropolitan Opera” features regal gowns, miniature models of stages, costume sketches and other memorabilia from the 226-year-old Italian landmark — even the walls were painted the same deep red as the opera house. Traces of work by such costume designers as Umberto Brunelleschi and Caramba, directors Cecil Beaton and Franco Zeffirelli, and set designers Alessandro Sanquirico and Joseph Urban are on display.
During a walk-through Tuesday at the museum, located at 580 Madison Avenue, chief curator Stephen Edidin said, “For opera, the Orient could mean anything outside of Europe. The influence on costumes became so intricate. It was picked from all over the world as fashion designers would.”
Visitors will get a glimpse of 20 costumes that are being displayed in the U.S. for the first time, and references to 40 largely forgotten Orientalist operas and ballets.
“What happened is people forget where influences started from,” said Edidin, noting how one costume sketch could have been the inspiration for Cruella DeVil in “101 Dalmations.”
Beneath their attire, stars always had a hefty dose of showmanship, with each performer trying to outshine the other. Looking at Cecil Beaton’s achingly decorative costume for Birgit Nilsson in “Turandot,” it’s not so difficult to imagine the diva holding a note longer than her co-star Franco Corelli, who retaliated by replacing their rehearsed kiss with a bite. The following day Nilsson’s note to the Met read, “Sorry, I cannot perform tonight. I was bitten by a rat.”
Maria Jeritza, who starred in the role in 1926, was another lead who never backed away from a high note. When a tenor upstaged her during one performance, she circled him until the enormous train of her elaborate costume “wrapped him in a cocoon until he nearly suffocated,” Edidin said. She was also known to infuriate fans by walking over her train while climbing stairs in the second scene. “It drove people crazy,” he added.Darting toward the ice princess-type of gown Ava Marton wore in a 1987 “Turandot” production at Lincoln Center, he said she became enraged the day before the opening and threw her three-tiered headdress and shattered it. Unlike earlier costumes, which were more authentic-looking than fantastical, Zeffirelli’s creation for Marton included more modern accents like plastic and other synthetics. Her performance in Reebok sneakers also signaled a new age.
Interestingly, the speed at which costumes were created took longer as time progressed. For the 1926 production, they were pulled together in seven months, Beaton was approached two years before the 1960 version, and Zeffirelli had five years to prepare for the 1987 version.
“As time went along, things got more elaborate,” Edidin said.
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