LA Opera’s 2014/15 season begins September 13 with an Art Deco-inspired production of La Traviata directed and designed by Marta Domingo. Mrs. Domingo took a break from rehearsals to talk to us about her inspiration and influences for this beloved Verdi masterpiece.
What inspired you to set La Traviata in the Art Deco era?
Art Deco and the Roaring Twenties have always fascinated me. Both of these—one an artistic movement, the other a social phenomenon—flourished at the same time. Art Deco represented elegance and glamour—think of Hollywood's sophisticated women and mysterious vamps—but also modernism and industrial progress. The era of speed had begun.
What had changed during this period?
A brutal war had left the nation in mourning for a lost generation of men, so young people took up the motto “Enjoy today to the fullest, for tomorrow may never arrive.” No moral or social barriers could stop them. They indulged in scandalous behavior—drinking in Prohibition-era speakeasies, sometimes drinking absinthe, the “Green Curse” of France; smoking cigarettes in public through long holders; and dancing wildly in dark clubs to the shocking rhythms of the Charleston played by jazz bands. And then there were cars, still relatively new at the time, perfect and comfortable for practicing the new sexual sport: petting.
Violetta's first entrance in La Traviata.
What influenced your designs for the production?
In the third act, Flora's party takes place in a private nightclub decorated with the characteristic geometric lines and predominant colors of Art Deco: black and gold. When I started thinking about the costumes and choreography for this part of the opera, Josephine Baker with her famous skirt of bananas first came to my mind. But I suddenly realized that I had my inspiration right in front of me: a little statuette of an oriental dancer, whose delicate body is made of ivory and her brief costume made of bronze. It’s one of my most precious belongings, and even if it is not signed by the great Romanian Art Deco sculptor Chiparus, it is as exquisite as any of his dancers. A fascination with exotic cultures was a defining characteristic of Art Deco, after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1921.
The bronze and ivory sculptures of Demétre Chiparus (1886-1947) embody the spirit of the Art Deco epoch. When the art of ancient Egypt came into fashion during the 1920s, Chiparus created numerous decorative figures that represented Egyptian dancers, like this one.
The new fashions of the 1920s were also fascinating to me. Wild and frenetic popular dances—such as the Charleston, Black Bottom and Shimmy—demanded total freedom of movement. Corsets were abolished, and with lighter undergarments such as the “step-ins,” a new woman emerged: slim, stylish, refined and reckless. On one side the new fashion called “the Garçon Look” made women look very girlish; on the other hand, the pale skin and black-lined eyes created the fascinating American “vamp” and the French “femme fatale.”