Stage design for Act II, Scene 1 in 'Don Giovanni' performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
Stage design for Act II, Scene 1 in 'Don Giovanni' performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Stage design for Act II, Scene 1 in 'Don Giovanni' performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.


Eugene Berman.

1957 Pen and ink, and watercolour. Initialled and dated by Eugene Berman. 171 x 110 mm. 110 x 171mm. 0.5kg. . Near fine; image and paper remains crisp and bright; residue of mounting glue to verso.

An original stage design by Eugene Berman for the new production of Don Giovanni first performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1957. The design is untitled but the similarities of the design to another sketch suggests it is for Act II, Scene 1 outside Donna Elvira's house. The design of the house is inspired by the Renaissance and the Baroque, with an elaborate, ornamental construction. A central open-work design with arches and busts is flanked by two circular towers and grilled windows. The arches are draped with yellow fabric.
Eugene Berman (1899-1972) was a leading Neo-Romantic painter and stage designer, becoming one of the world's most acclaimed theatrical designers of his time. He was an expert draughtsman and his set designs, with their jewel-like quality, are highly prized. He was born in Russia but emigrated first to Paris, and then to America. His career had two parallel strands, one painting and one theatre design, although the two overlapped stylistically. Berman was heavily influenced by nineteenth-century Romanticism and by the architectural ruins encountered on his travels to Mexico, Egypt and Italy. His images have a sense of melancholy, of the sublime and of the theatrical.
Berman had become fascinated by theatre design since his youth having attended the Imperial Ballet in Saint Petersburg and Diaghilev's Ballet Russe in Paris. His lyrical, architectural landscapes lent themselves to the drama and beauty of the opera stage. Berman designed the sets and costumes for five productions at The Met under the watch of Rudolf Bing, the General Manager between 1950 and 1972. These wereRigoletto, La Forza del Destino, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Don Giovanni and Otello . All were critically-acclaimed, used for many seasons and marked a high point in the history of theatrical design.
To design Don Giovanni had been a life-long ambition for Berman. In 1941 he wrote to Edward Johnson (an earlier General Manager at The Met): "I don't know if you are aware of it or not, but my great interest in the theatre lies even more in the opera than in the Ballet and my greatest desire is to design a classic or romantic opera, Mozart, Gluck or Verdi. Most of all: Don Giovanni , no opera is more beautiful and complete to me than this...". His desire was fulfilled when Bing wrote to him in October 1956 with an official invitation to design Don Giovanni  for the 1957/58 season. The director for the production was Herbert Graf. Over the next year designs for the set and costumes flew back and forth between Berman, Bing and Graf. The opera premiered on 31 October 1957. Berman's dreamlike designs were a triumph and proved so popular in subsequent seasons at The Met that they were only replaced in 1990.
[Tuggle, Robert. Eugene Berman. Drawings for the Stage. Wheelock Whitney & Company. 1989; Duncan, Michael. High Drama. Eugene Berman and the Legacy of the Melancholic Sublime. Hudson Hills. 2004.]