RIPM’s “Illustrations of the Week”Horse Racing on the Opera StageHow Did They Do It?
One of the scenes in Monréal and Blondeau’s Paris port de mer, which played at the Parisian Théâtre des Variétés in 1891, involves a horse race.
L’Illustration, Vol. XCVII (14 March 1891): 236.
An engraving published in L’Illustration beautifully depicts this realistic and motion-filled horse race from the perspective of the audience. From this view, however, it is difficult to discern exactly how this event was produced. Are the horses mechanical? Are they real, but restrained in some way? How did they do it? The next image reveals the technology used to create the illusion. When you think you have it all figured out, scroll down!
Astoundingly, the stage of the Théâtre des Variétés was rigged with three separate treadmills, upon which three living, breathing horses, ridden by three likely-professional jockeys, galloped unrestrained. To create the illusion of the horses running on a track, the pickets of the fence in the foreground were attached to a belt, which moved concurrently to the 95 yards of scenery canvas being unwound in the background. So, as the horses seemingly move in one direction, the sliding fence pickets and scenery canvas moved in the opposite direction, giving the feeling of motion . Et voilà, a horse race on stage!
RIPM search tip: A combined search for “horse race” as a keyword in RIPM Retrospective Index and Preservation Series: European and North American Music Periodicals generates a list of 109 results, including a four-verse song published in an 1824 issue of the London journal The Harmonicon entitled, “The Race-Horse”.
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