The Thousand and one Nights Costumes

From 17th May to 11th November 2008

For centuries, eastern mirages have been feeding western dreams. Crusaders, travellers and merchants stories, the French kings’ policy, the alliance between the Lys and the Crescent in the first place, relations Louis the Fourteenth tied with the Sublime Door, the Sultan’s embassies in Versailles; all this finds a literary blossoming with the first translation by Antoine Galland of the “Thousand Nights and one Night” tales in 1704.

If in France all ends in songs, all happens also, sooner or later, on stage. On all scenes, as much on stages of Italian farce players as on the stages of the very officials’ Royal music academy and Comédie Française theatres, sultanas and viziers delight the public. Rameau’s operas, Molière or Racine’s plays, previous to Voltaire’s tragedies, abound in beautifully set Orientalisms. Sceneries and costumes recall of a dreamed Eastern made of luxury, warm colours, perfumes, precious fabrics, damascened arms, simultaneously cruel and sensual.

In the 19th century, Bonaparte’s Egypt campaign, the Eastern issue, Algeria’s conquest; inspire paintings, literature, poetry … and mode. Romantic artists are travelling east, as an escape to paradise. Abandoning for a time industrializing towns blended in the grey of sceneries and clothes, thirsty of local colour; artists dream of freeing themselves of the social conventions’ corset and nurse their nostalgia in the Mediterranean. Other conventions will arise; any ballet worthy of the name will cast bayaderes, almahs and peris in a joyous mix offering all treasures of exoticism.

The public seems never to have enough of these celestial visions. However, gradually, during the second half of the 19th century, the East becomes commonplace. The upsurge of the Russian ballets will wake up an exhausted West; once more will theatre vibrate with Léon Bakst colours, madly applauding Nijinsky, in the golden slave role from “Scheherazade”. Paul Poiret will turn women into sultanas, and a new translation by Doctor Mardrus of the “Thousand and one Nights” tales, will be fully illustrated, produced and toned down in a children book form.

With the 20th century, travelling and speed, the known world is boundless. However, a whole part of youth will make of Kathmandu its faraway dream, while Fashion, taking advantage of “fashions”, found caftans and turbans again. Even if nowadays globalization reigns, the charms of this “Thousand and one Nights” East are still very strong on scenes, as shows “La Bayadère” or “Scheherazade” magnificence.

Sceneries and costumes’ drawings creating on stage an “opera style” East, give life to a stage design presenting extracted scenes from works derived from the Thousand and one Nights or from their stage adaptation, Scheherazade’s harem, Marouf’s booth, Cairo’s cobbler, the Sultana’s garden, Ali Baba’s cavern, the Sultan’s lounge, Sinbad the sailor’s harbour, the caravan’s halt, the “Bourgeois Gentilhomme”’ Orientalism…


Themes and displayed costumes

The exhibition illustrates passages of the “Thousand and one Nights” tales that have more or less inspired several works on stage. The displayed costumes come either from these works’ production or from symbolic works like the “Bourgeois Gentilhomme” and its oriental scene, or from works in oriental’s taste.

Some examples:

  • La boutique du savetier, costumes of Quelvée for Henri Rabaud’s opera, « Marouf, savetier du Caire », Opéra de Paris, 1928. Opéra National de Paris’ collection.
  • La caverne d’Ali Baba, oriental style costumes, precious cloths, rich embroideries, skilful appliqués, …for Audiberti’s « Le Mal court », Labiche’s « Le Chapeau de paille d’Italie », Racine’s « Bajazet », Goldoni’s « Le Joueur »… Comédie-Française’s collection.
  • Le marché aux esclaves, costumes coming from collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale Performing Arts department, « Bajazet », « Salammbô »…
  • La boutique du drapier et du tailleur with  XIXth century caftans used for several productions like « Les Trois Sultanes », Favart, « Chérubin », Massenet’s opera. Comédie-Française and Opéra National de Paris’ collections.
  • Le harem presenting costumes after drawings by Léon Bakst, famous decorator of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and master of eastern style, from « Shéhérazade » ballet,  replyed at the Opera de Paris in 1951. Opéra National de Paris’s collection.
  • The Orientalism of Molière’s « Bourgeois Gentilhomme », as a pretext for Mamamouchis, muphtis’ défilé and other masquerade, with costumes coming from several productions of this play given at the Comédie-Française. Comédie-Française’s collection and  repertoire. Poème Harmonique’s repertoire.
  • Sindbad le marin, for the travelling and adventure’s thema, with costumes by Jean-Denis Malclès for« Obèron », Weber’s opera, given at the Opéra de Paris in 1954. Collection de l’Opéra National de Paris.
  • Le salon du sultan, with costumes by Alain Blanchot for « Cadmus et Hermione », by Lully and for « Sant’Alessio », by Landi. Opéra-Comique and Caen’s Théâtre repertoire.
  • Les jardins de la sultane, all India’s treasures, with costumes by Franca Squarciapino for Rudolf Noureev’s ballet after Marius Petipa, « La Bayadère »,  at the Opéra de Paris repertoire since 1993. Opéra national de Paris’s repertoire.
  • Halte de caravane dans le désert,  costumes by Françoise Darne for « Idoménée », Mozart opera, Opéra de Paris, 1991 ; by Pet Halmen for  « Didon et Enée », Purcell’s opera, Opéra de Paris, 1984 ;  by Agostino Pace for « Zadig », after Voltaire, Comédie-Française, 1978 ; by Louis Bercut  for « Polyeucte », Corneille, Comédie-Française, 1987 ; costumes by Elisabeth Neumuller for « Salomé », Strauss opera, Opéra de Paris, 1994. Comédie-Française and Opéra National de Paris collections.

And finally, marionettes by Géo Condé, for « Ali Baba », coming from the collections of the Performing Arts department of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, will illustrate all the variations of the Thousand and one Nights tales for the children’s world.

Commissariat de l’exposition et direction artistique

Michel Albertini

Scenographer

Michel Albertini has lead, at the same time, a career as an actor, author and scenographer. After studing theatre arts at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art in Paris, Michel Albertini has acted in one hundred films for both the cinema and the...

Scenographer

Michel Albertini has lead, at the same time, a career as an actor, author and scenographer. After studing theatre arts at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art in Paris, Michel Albertini has acted in one hundred films for both the cinema and the television. He regularly works in theatres in France and abroad such as la Fenice in Venise where he interpreted The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian. He has written several plays for theatre, notably Les Merdicoles performed at the Comédie-Française and has had several novels published by different editors. Michel Albertini has directed several Offenbach operas, Monsieur Choufleuri, Les Dames de la halle, Pomme d’Api

At the CNCS: Michel Albertini was responsible for the exhibition scenography for « I live the military! » reproduced at the Army Museum in Paris, then in collaboration with Christian Lacroix, the exhibition « Christian Lacroix, costume designer ».

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Martine Kahane

General Libraries Curator

Martine Kahane was director of the National Center for Stage Costumes from 2006 to 2011.General libraries curator, Martine Kahane has spent thirty-five years helping to create the memoirs of the National Opera of Paris. First she managed the...

General Libraries Curator

Martine Kahane was director of the National Center for Stage Costumes from 2006 to 2011.General libraries curator, Martine Kahane has spent thirty-five years helping to create the memoirs of the National Opera of Paris. First she managed the Library-Museum of the Opera (attached to the National Library of France), before creating and managing the Cultural department, at the request of Hugues Gall, who was then director of the National Opera of Paris. The Palais Garnier is her preferred choice, the 19th century her favorite period, the  Little fourteen-year-old dancer by Degas her favorite work of art, resulting in twenty exhibitions and just as many publications on the architecture of Charles Garnier, the costume workshops and ballet company of the opera, the Russian Ballets by Diaghilev…

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