Not currently on display at the V&A

The garden

Set Design
1955 (designed)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Great Britain’s leading theatre designer from the early 1930s to the mid 1950s, Oliver Messel (1904-1978) won international acclaim for his lavish, painterly and poetic designs informed by period styles. His work spans ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue. Messel’s traditional style of theatre design became unfashionable from the mid 1950s onwards, and he increasingly concentrated on painting, interior and textile design, including designing luxury homes in the Caribbean.

Mozart’s opera Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786) was performed to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1955. Critics praised Messel’s exuberant pastiche of 18th-century art and design ‘The décor by Oliver Messel was in his richest and most inventive vein, fully emphasising the unique blend of sharp satire and human understanding for the folly and unhappiness of the characters which Mozart so perfectly caught in his music’ (The Tatler, 22 June, 1955).

A drawing on scaled tracing paper for the garden, Act IV, which includes a gazebo and garden seat. The symmetrical trees and proscenium arch emphasise the traditional idea of a theatre set viewed through a ‘window’ and consisting of only three sides, a convention which most contemporary theatre designers have abandoned.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Charcoal, ink and pencil on tracing paper
Brief Description
Set design by Oliver Messel for the Garden in Act IV of Mozart's operaLe Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Glyndebourne 1955.
Physical Description
A set design by Oliver Messel for the garden in a Glyndebourne production of Le Nozze di Figaro, 1955. A design in charcoal, pencil and ink on scaled tracing paper. The garden is framed with a cloth draped proscenium arch and trees. A gazebo wing on the left, a woman in eighteenth century dress stands in the middle next toa Baroque style seat.
Dimensions
  • Height: 40.2cm
  • Width: 55.7cm
Production typeDesign
Credit line
Acquired with the support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Art Fund and the Friends of the V&A
Object history
Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786), an opera in four acts by Mozart with libretto by da Ponte, from Beaumarchais’ La folle journée, ou, Le Marriage de Figaro (1778). Oliver Messel’s production was first performed by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera at Glyndebourne on 8 June, 1955. It was directed by Carl Ebert and featured Bruscantini as Figaro and Elena Rizzieri as Susanna. It was revived at Glyndebourne in 1956, 1958, 1962, 1963 and 1965.

Lord Snowdon, Oliver Messel's nephew, inherited Messel's theatre designs and other designs and artefacts. The designs were briefly stored in a disused chapel in Kensington Palace before being housed at the V&A from 1981 on indefinite loan. The V&A Theatre Museum purchased the Oliver Messel collection from Lord Snowdon in 2005.



Historical significance: At the height of his career, Messel designed costumes and sets for operas at Glyndebourne.
Production
Reason For Production: Commission
Summary
Great Britain’s leading theatre designer from the early 1930s to the mid 1950s, Oliver Messel (1904-1978) won international acclaim for his lavish, painterly and poetic designs informed by period styles. His work spans ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue. Messel’s traditional style of theatre design became unfashionable from the mid 1950s onwards, and he increasingly concentrated on painting, interior and textile design, including designing luxury homes in the Caribbean.



Mozart’s opera Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) (1786) was performed to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1955. Critics praised Messel’s exuberant pastiche of 18th-century art and design ‘The décor by Oliver Messel was in his richest and most inventive vein, fully emphasising the unique blend of sharp satire and human understanding for the folly and unhappiness of the characters which Mozart so perfectly caught in his music’ (The Tatler, 22 June, 1955).



A drawing on scaled tracing paper for the garden, Act IV, which includes a gazebo and garden seat. The symmetrical trees and proscenium arch emphasise the traditional idea of a theatre set viewed through a ‘window’ and consisting of only three sides, a convention which most contemporary theatre designers have abandoned.
Associated Object
S.169-2006 (Study for)
Bibliographic Reference
Pinkham, Roger (ed.) Oliver Messel, London, V&A, 1983illus. fig.81
Other Number
ROT 2095 - TM Rotation Number
Collection
Accession Number
S.176-2006

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record createdJuly 4, 2006
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