CECIL BEATON PHOTOGRAPHER? NO. COSTUME DESIGNER for TRAVIATA.
Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was best known as a photographer. Beaton also worked as an illustrator, a diarist, and designer for stage and film. He won three Oscars for costume and art direction for the film version of My Fair Lady (1965) and for Gigi (1958).
La Traviata is an opera in three acts with music by Giuseppe Verdi. The producer for the Metropolitan Opera House was Alfred Lunt and was the first production for the opening season of the new Metropolitan Opera House. Cecil Beaton’s designs were praised by the critics for catching the decadence and luxury of the mid-19th century Parisian scene.
Cecil Beaton created glorious gowns for the opening season of the Metropolitan Opera Company’s 1966 La Traviata at Lincoln Center-dressed in the reds and golds of the Met.
For the costumes, Beaton said “I wanted the colours to have a gold light-dark but sparkling, scintillating.” Karinska made the gowns and headresses-scouring about for old laces, jet, tinsel, ribbons to get the effect -a look of-lushness-a heaviness indicative of 1860 that Beaton desired. Alfred Lunt’s stage sets were designed by Beaton as well.
“I have the worst ear for criticism; even when I have created a stage set I like,
I always hear the woman in the back of the dress circle who says she doesn’t like blue. “
Cecil arrived in New York City in 1928, having achieved early success in his homeland.Trans-Atlantic connections resulted in his near-instant introduction to New York City’s elite, including Elsie de Wolfe and Edna Woolman Chase, the editor of Vogue magazine at the time. What followed is the stuff of legend: a remarkably agile career which spanned fifty years and as many visionary works in which Beaton brought his rarefied vision to bear on fashion photography, illustration and caricature, portraiture (in drawings and photographs), and set and costume design for stage and film.
Cecil Beaton’s stratospheric ambition was nurtured and sustained by mid-20th–century New York, where his career was able to maintain a feverishly high pitch. Society figures, media giants, impresarios, celebrities, actors, artists, writers, and the merely famous passed in front of his camera in an endless parade of glamour and style. The pages of Condé Nast publications—most notably, Vogue magazine—showcased his elaborately staged photo shoots, in which his eye for opulence and drama animated such sitters as Fred (and his wife, Adele) Astaire, Maria Callas, Greta Garbo, Martha Graham, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, and the woman who would become the ultimate 20th-century icon: Marilyn Monroe. He enlivened his photographs with sets in which he borrowed liberally and extravagantly from European art forms, incorporating formal elements of modern (and classical) painting and sculpture into his work, and bringing elements of such major aesthetic movements as impressionism, surrealism, and others into the homes of magazine readers nationwide.
His extraordinary stage sets and costumes for Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York City Ballet were masterful evocations of “place” in the extreme.