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Curators’ Picks: The Art of Theatrical Design

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The following is a feature from the May/June 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. Co-curators Daniel Boomhower and Walter Zvonchenko of the Music Division highlight items from the Library’s exhibition, “Grand Illusion: The Art of Theatrical Design.” This week is your last chance to stop by the Library to see what’s on display — the exhibition closes Saturday, July 25. You can also check out the exhibition online

td00011. An Imperial Production

Performed before the imperial court of Leopold I in Vienna in 1668, “Il Pomo d’Oro” (The Golden Apple) featured an elaborate set designed by Ludovico Burnacini. “Baroque-era court shows were not just theater, they were manifestations of power,” said Zvonchenko. “The proscenium stage concealed elaborate contraptions, which allowed for fire and brimstone in the sky. It was not unusual for theaters that featured such special effects to burn down.” Music Division

2. Ziegfeld Follies7749341

“John Harkrider designed most of Florenz Ziegfeld’s shows, which were popular on Broadway during the first few first decades of the 20th century,” said Boomhower. “This sheet music cover–demure by Ziegfeld’s standards–presents Irving Berlin’s “Tell Me, Little Gypsy” from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1920.” Music Division

77493913. Designing Women

Set designers Elizabeth Montgomery and Peggy Clark, who collaborated under the name “Motley,” were “trailblazers as women became more involved in show production and management, as well as other theater occupations,” said Zvonchenko. Pictured here is their watercolor design for the Agnes DeMille Dance Theatre’s 1953 tour. Peggy Clark Collection, Music Division

4. Oliver Smith’s “My Fair Lady”td0041

This watercolor and pen-and-ink set design depicts the scene in which Professor Henry Higgins discovers Eliza Doolittle selling flowers outside London’s Covent Garden opera house. “Smith was the first person hired for Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 production of ‘My Fair Lady,'” said Boomhower. “Before the director, before the cast–they knew who they wanted to design it.” Oliver Smith Collection, Music Division; Works of Oliver Smith © Rosaria Sinisi

Detail of the Grand Hotel set piece in "Grand Illusion: The Art of Theatrical Design" exhibition, March 20, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

5. Tony Walton’s “Grand Hotel”

“This is the 3-D model of Tony Walton’s stage set for the 1989 production of ‘Grand Hotel,’ which was designed without an orchestra pit out front for Broadway’s Martin Beck Theatre,” said Boomhower. “We wanted to exemplify the idea of spectacle. The scenic designer is a co-director. Design tells you how the show moves.” Tony Walton Collection, Music Division; reproduced by permission of Tony Walton

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