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Any guesses as to the ballet shown on this stage?

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this scan shows a full-stage grouping of a female corps de ballet.

eventually i can provide some, if not necessarily conclusive, information about the circumstances of this ballet moment.

i think it's best to let any guesses come in w/o noting which ones are on target, near target, or off target.

in a day or so i'll post what i know about this photo.


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Using google books to follow up on carbo's observation produced this quote from Performance Practice by Roland John Jackson.

"In Italian opera during the 1840s and 1850s a form of divided direction was usual: a "director of music" rehearsed the singers and determined the tempos, while the first violinist remained in charge of the orchestra. The director positioned himself at stage right during a performance with his back to the orchestra. By the time of Verdi's middle=period operas (1849-54) the need for a single conductor began to be felt, but this change only came in gradually." Page 100-01

Is this relevant?

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Whoever this is looks like he's hanging off the back of the prompter's box. Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote about playing a backstage organ in operas in the early 1860s, and one day the "metronome-telegraph" (a stick waved by a wire running to a pedal, powered by the conductor's foot) broke. Sullivan sent a stagehand to the pit to tell the conductor what had happened, and that he was playing blind. It came off all right because the conductor had had exactly the same thing happen to him once. He just followed Sullivan's organ cues. A bit o/t, but another example of "remote conducting".

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What a crowd! The dark hair (wigs?) is striking. If it's a major classic, it certainly doesn't look like the high classic style. A pastiche of some sorts? -- one of those gods and goddesses ballets the 19th-century opera house companies did?

rg, can you give us a hint or two? -- possibly the decade? or the location?

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some of the poses that the corps are assuming almost make it look as though they are trying to do some sort of swan lake.

I thought that instantly, but without any but the most rudimentary reasons for doing so. But find the photo wonderful--lush, voluptuous, old. There's the painted set, too, isn't there? It made me think of Italy for just as elementary a reason. I can't quite make out the podium features; it looks like these 2 tusks are sticking out of it.

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Dale is on the right track.

As is Bart, with his 'pastiche' suggestion.

[the data i have about this will be as conclusive as possible, but not necessarily air-tight, and will include an 'educated' guess or two.]

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One of those movies like Goldwyn Follies that were basically a series of different kinds of musical production number strung together by a minimal plot? Vera Zorina (and, I assume, other ballet dancers) were sometimes in this kind of project. The ballet productions were often strange and overwrought.

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I've been wanting to say film & I want to say opera, but of course I have no evidence except intuition... things seem odd about it, like it's not a real stand alone ballet company but an opera's company (and I don't mean the Paris Opera)... maybe it's the prompter box thing... maybe it's the sets... maybe it's that the ballet looks to be of a certain era but doesn't resemble anything I've seen photographed before... they might be Italian... they definitely look overcrowded, as if what they're doing wasn't designed for that stage (even though it looks like a well appointed house)... something is definitely odd about it. It seems like such a large cast and orchestra not to be more normal looking, like a Hollywood budget or Opera might provide... if a ballet company could afford that, would things be spaced better? It's an odd place to rehearse a company from. I don't buy that the photo is actually from the 1840s or 1850s so it must be staged to look like something older... which would be why it would be from a movie...

It's just plain odd. (and fascinating :beg:

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here follows the data on the photo when i acquired it.

i've had a found/surmised more info since then but i offer this as start to identifying what the photo documents:

The opening sequence of The Phantom of the Opera. This film was released twice within a short time period, the silent version in 1925 and a sound-effects version in 1930. This is from either of those releases. Original, 8x10.

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Given the gangly arms, and the outrageous head positions of some of the dancers, seems like some sort of Walpurgisnacht is a good guess. so Faust seems realy smart as a guess. And the frizzy wigs look like Nazimova's in her 20s remake of Camille, so Carbro, there's food for thought.

The thing that struck me about the mis-en-scene is how much the stage looks like a smaller version of the SF Opera House -- it's almost the same curtain, gold, pulled up in 5 places so as to make a scalloped border for the proscenium; the heavy tassels, too -- and the proscenium legs are similar, though our proscenium is very high, there is a horizontal cut-off masking the flies (I think ours is just plain black). Our stage is bigger, but this one is set up to LOOK crowded. THe SF Opera House is in the SF Beaux Arts style, so the "look" of a French opera house stage may probably have been the architect's ideal.

Wonder where this actually IS.... what they used for the location. opera comique? (I have no idea)


Well, guess what? Wikipedia has an EXCELLENT article on this (Lon Chaney) movie, and the opera was indeed Faust, and the film was shot THREE TIMES before a test audience could get excited about it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Phantom_o...era_(1925_film)

"According to Universal Studios, part of the set from the 1925 film has never been torn down and still stands. Inside soundstage 28, part of the opera house set continues to stand to the side where it was filmed some eight decades ago. Though it remains impressive, time has taken its toll and it is very rarely used. Urban legends claim the set remains because when workers have attempted to take it down in the past there have been fatal accidents, said to be caused by the ghost of Lon Chaney Sr.

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"According to Universal Studios, part of the set from the 1925 film has never been torn down and still stands. Inside soundstage 28, part of the opera house set continues to stand to the side where it was filmed some eight decades ago. Though it remains impressive, time has taken its toll and it is very rarely used."

Is that cool or what? I'd love to see that. Even the 'Intolerance' sets got the ax after a couple of years.l

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Ernest Belcher, father of Marge Champion and early teacher of Maria Tallchief, is given choreography credit for THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

It's true that FAUST is the opera in the plot, and one dvd version I have of the movie, uses parts of the opera's ballet music, but not the Walpurgisnacht, under this 'ballet blanc' set piece. A recent dvd I now have of the movie (in a 2 disc set) calls this sequence, simply "Ballet."

a few male dancers join the all-female ensemble by the end for the final tableau.

i believe this is specially 'arranged' grouping for publicty purposes to advertise the movie.

the Paris Opera ballet that Belcher's pastiche most resembles, it seems to me, is Clustine's SUITE DE DANSES, which the NYPL dance coll. catalogues as follows:

Suite de danses : Chor: Ivan Clustine; mus: Frédéric Chopin, orch. by André Messager & Paul Vidal; cos: Pinchon. First perf: Paris, Opera, June 23, 1913; Paris Opera Ballet.//Revival: Paris, Opera, Feb 20, 1922; Paris Opera Ballet

the revival in '22 might have been something Belcher was aware of. Bits of this work, with the women in somewhat shortened versions of today's de riugeur SYLPHIDES tutus and the men in black(?) velvet tunis over white tights and 'romantic' blouses, appear in the POB archive footage making up Delouche's SERGE PERETTI: LE DERNIER ITALIEN.

so this is a pastiche of a 'late' 19th century Paris Opera ballet by an American balletmaster for an American ensemble of dancers in an American silent movie.

The set was a indeed built on a Hollywood lot and was made to look like the Palais Garnier, which is the setting for the Gaston Leroux novel on which the plot is based, and it apparently lasted a good long time, as it was repainted and re-outfitted to serve as the settings for other Hollywood movies.

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This small photo has certainly opened doors to a lot of fascinating material. Thanks, rg, for posting it.

Your suggestion that this shot was a "special grouping" for publicity purposes made sense. It's the wierdness of the various poses -- and the ugly tableau they make together -- that puzzled me. Surely no choreographer, even the worst, could have CHOSEN such a look.

I saw the film long ago in student film series. But I've never thought about the cultural milieu from which it comes. You've intrigued me into revisiting the film and doing further reading on the background.

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The Palais Garnier is on one of the France Arte Architectures films, which are all brilliant, and done from about 2000=2005. All of the history is there, including what suggested the 'lake' in 'Phantom', but it also mentioned the huge size of the stage. I've been there two or three times but not for many years. It was either the largest in Europe at the time, or one of them. So I was wondering if this set is a smaller rendering of the Palais Garnier stage. I remember this concentration on stage rather than auditorium size, because also in the series is a film about the Auditorium Building in Chicago, which went the opposite direction, with much more emphasis on the auditorium than the stage. This would go along with national differences --Chicago certainly had no wicked area for adventurers and voyeurs in what was supposed to be a rehearsal area, and the emphasis on democracy in a certain sense is not going to be as readily found in Paris (no box seats at first, etc., then they weren't especially well-located)--but as an opera house, Paris turns out to have been vindicated, even if it was threatened in more recent years (the Chicago house survived, but is mainly just a venue by now as theater, and was much used by rock groups in the 60s and 70s. Roosevelt University otherwise) So would there have been this much crowding of kitschy sylphs on the real stage of the Palais Garnier as there is on this replica, or is it much smaller?

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i have no dimensions to offer here, but the Garnier is definitely a deep stage, much deeper seeming than this pastiche version.

i suspect the one? exterior shot of the Garnier in the movie is an actual, on-location shot and not a shot of model.

but even as far as depth goes the stage looks much deeper in the film when the ballet's being performed than in this still shot.

also, i suspect the 'sound-stage set' was not raked as the Garnier is, but i'm only guessing.

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