Stage design for Act IV in Otello performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Stage design for Act IV in Otello performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Eugene Berman.

1962. Pen and ink, and gouache. Initialled and dated by Eugene Berman. 'Otello' and 'Act IV' written in the lower left and right corners. Drawing is 308 x 253 mm, pasted to black card measuring 319 x 263 mm. 263 x 319mm (10 x 12"). 0.5kg. . Near fine; image and paper remains crisp and bright; residue of mounting glue to verso of black card.

An original stage design by Eugene Berman for the new production of Otello first performed at the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1963. The design is for Act IV, played out in Desdemona's bedchamber. The bed, on a plinth, sits centre stage. Looking down upon it is a statue of the Madonna. In front is a chair and Desdemona's prie-dieu. The structure of the room is made up of a gothic-inspired, open-work frame, hung with blue and yellow starry drapes. The whole has an ecclesiastical air, rich in Renaissance and Venetian detail. The large scale of the drawing and the quality of the detail and finish suggest that this was a final design.

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 were Rigoletto, La Forza del Destino, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Don Giovanniand Otello. All were critically-acclaimed, used for many seasons and marked a high point in the history of theatrical design.

Following the huge success of his designs for Don GiovanniBerman had chosen to return to Rome to concentrate on his painting. He was eventually lured back to theatre design by the invitation of Bing to design the sets and costumes for Verdi's Otello. As with Don Giovanni, he worked with Bing and the director Herbert Graf, sending designs back and forth until the final details were agreed upon. Berman's designs for Otello are drenched in Venetian colours and Renaissance detail and the sets have a melancholic drama that reflected both his style and the play's subject matter. The opera premiered on 3 March 1963 but only ran for four seasons before it was replaced by a Franco Zeffirelli production in 1972.

[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.]

Price :  £2,500.00



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