Thursday, March 27, 2008

Restaurant Italien - 1927

Non Solo Erté coverLast month on my trip to Milan I just couldn't walk by Libreria Rizzoli, the big bookstore in the Galleria, without stopping in just to browse. And I just happened to come across Non Solo Erté - Not Only Erté, Costume Design for the Paris Music Hall 1918-1940. It was in an embossed slip case, it was large, it was heavy and it was expensive. And it was chocked full of designs for the great French Music Halls - the Folies Bergère, Bal Tabarin, Ba-ta-clan, Casino de Paris, Moulin Rouge. The designer most people know from that period was, as the title suggests, Erté but there were so many other talented artists creating costumes and scenery for les grands Music Halls. Many of them came to North American at the onset of WWII to work in New York, Hollywood and even at the Ringling Brothers Circus. Some of the names I was familiar with but others were new to me.

Lido de Paris Programme 1962I may not have mentioned it but I've been in love with the tits-and-tassels Parisian Music Hall revues for as long as I can remember. When I was 14 I wrote to the Lido de Paris asking if they could send me a programme book. I received one with a note from Pierre Louis-Guérin, then the Lido Director, saying he looked forward to the day when I could be there to see one of his shows. I still have that programme and managed to catch three productions in Paris over the years as well as several when they were at the old Stardust in Las Vegas.

But to be honest I wish I had been around in that period between the two Great Wars when Josephine Baker, Mistinquett, Maurice Chevalier and the Dolly Sisters starred in fantastic spectacles whose sole purpose was to astound and entertain. The music was jazz-hot, the dancers were beautiful English roses and the Showgirls elegant and stately. The tableaux were as frivolous as the time itself and subjects could range from The Loves of Casanova, Great Queens of History, Milady's Garden, the Jewel Box of Cleopatra or even something as everyday as The Newspaper. Designers jostled with each other to be more creative and innovative. And in a place like the Folies Bergère where the stage is only 32 feet deep it was a challenge.

I found this particularly series of designs by Marco Montedoro particularly delightful and silly. Montedoro was an Italin artist who fled to American during World War II and eventually became head designer at New York's Radio City Music Hall. This tableau, for Un Vent de Folie the Folies Bergère show for 1927 starring Josephine Baker, was called Restaurant Italien and his imagination went wild clothing the showgirls and the ponies (dancers) as Bread Sticks, Antipasti and Pasta and the chorus boys as after dinner coffee and bonbons.

Stage Set
The set represented a table at an Italian Restaurant; the waiter with the serving dish was a painted backdrop and the table would have been a two level platform - an ingenious use of the small stage depth. The whole set would have taken up about 12 feet of space - meanwhile a larger scene was probably being set up behind it.

No doubt an Italian tenor, from Roumania, would have been on the forestage - the Folies Bergère has a runway around the orchestra pit - warbling something appropriately Italian as the cast paraded, dance-stepped and glided across the table as:

Le Grisinnis - Breadsticks

CeleryLe celeri

RadishesLes Radis

Salad
SaladLe Salade

Les Spaghetti - Costume DesignLes Spaghetti

Spumone - Costume DesignLe Spumoni

cafe expresso -costume designLe Fiasco - costume designLe Cappacchino and La Fiasco - something like a wrapped candy????

It was definately a glorious, silly time! I wish I had been there.

27 marzo - San Ruperto

6 comments:

Doralong said...

Thoroughly fabulous!! Excess for the sake of spectacle as opposed to the vulgar turn things seem to take these days..

tater said...

Beautiful! I am still searching for the perfect Italian cookbook, if you happen to have any suggestions, I am all ears...

sageweb said...

How adorable. Love the spumoni. I am sorta hungry now.

more cowbell said...

So interesting -- I know nothing of these things, but I love books like that. I loved the spaghetti and spumoni.

BigAssBelle said...

those images are fantastic! oh, and i also wish i had been around in those glamorous days.

But to be honest I wish I had been around in that period between the two Great Wars when Josephine Baker, Mistinquett, Maurice Chevalier and the Dolly Sisters starred in fantastic spectacles whose sole purpose was to astound and entertain. The music was jazz-hot, the dancers were beautiful English roses and the Showgirls elegant and stately.

you've phrased it so well. i've always felt i was born in the wrong era. the kind of nightlife that existed in the '20s, '30s, '40s doesn't exist anywhere anymore. a tragedy. :(

Anonymous said...

Any idea abut the relationship betwen Marco and Ladislav Czettel (another costume designer) who seem to have left for the USA together?