April 4

Conducting with One’s Back to the Orchestra 
RIPM’s “Illustrations of the Week”

Today, opera conductors are positioned between the audience and the orchestra, so as to visually lead both those singing on stage and the instrumentalists accompanying them. In the 19th century, however, engravings frequently depict conductors in what would be viewed today as a most unusual position—right in front of the stage, with their backs to the orchestra! See if you can spot the conductor in the following series of images.

A production of Fromental Halévy’s Charles VI at the Théâtre de l’Opéra.
L’Illustration, Vol. I (18 March 1843): 41.

 

A scene from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the Théâtre-Italien
L’Illustration, Vol. I (1 April 1843): 72.

 

An engraving from an 1848 production at the Théâtre de Trianon
L’Illustration, Vol. XI (22 April 1848): 128.

 

Another image of a Fromental Halévy opera production, this time of La Juive
L’Illustration, Vol. X (18 September 1847): 37.

 

A view from the stage at the Théâtre royal de Berlin
L’Illustration, Vol. IX (21 August 1847): 388.

 

A similar view, this time from the Grand-Théâtre in St. Petersburg
Ibid.

 

A horse race scene from Monréal and Blondeau’s Paris port de mer at the Parisian Théâtre des Variétés
L’Illustration, Vol. XCVII (14 March 1891): 236.

This collection of iconography captures a particular performance practice at a specific time in musical history. And as in the case of the final image above, which was featured in a recent post about the use of machinery to create scenic illusions at the opera, these illustrations also demonstrate the many different research inquiries that can be formulated from a single piece of iconography.

 

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Posted April 4, 2018 by John Ehrenburg in category "Illustration(s) of the Week