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Russian Gifts: Notecards

Ballets Russes Notecards (available soon)

The Ballets Russes is something of a misnomer because history remembers the ballets created and staged by Serge Diaghilev’s company but often forgets that his first love was opera. The Saisons Russes opened in Paris in 1908 with the opera Boris Godunov, and in the early years Diaghilev was often planning and hoping to include opera in his Russian Seasons. However, both expense and backstage machinations at home in St Petersburg prevented him from realising many of these intentions. After the success of the ballets staged in Paris in 1909, Diaghilev changed the name of his company to the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev, and his opera productions became a part of history.

The Ballets Russes existed until 1929 (the year of Diaghilev’s death), by which time it had become a global company, performing in Madrid, Buenos Aires, Chicago, but never in Russia.
The set and curtain designs reproduced here, come from Ballets Russes productions of both opera and ballet. They are all dated before 1914 because that year – the beginning of the First World War – marks the date when Diaghilev himself was no longer able to travel to Russia, the hitherto centre of his company.

I have included a design by Boris Anisfeld, for the ballet Islamey, which was not staged in Paris by Diaghilev, but at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg. The exoticism of the costume, so similar in style to the Ballets Russes (with whom Anisfeld was simultaneously working), is no accident. It shows how the conservative Imperial Russian Theatres were affected (and much put out ) by the success of the Ballets Russes in Paris.

Size: 6 3/4 x 4 3/4 (11 x 15 cm)


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© 2005 Jeremy Noble