Russia Theatre Comedy Dom Juan

Dom Juan

Molière’s comedy Dom Juan ou le festin de pierre was the first and most famous collaboration between Alexander Golovin and Vsyevolod Meyerhold for the Imperial Theatres. The director and designer recreated the atmosphere of gilded luxury in seventeenth-century Versailles, mounting a performance in the spirit of the court theatre of King Louis XIV of France – without a curtain, dimmed auditorium or special box for the prompters. When designing for the theatre, Alexander Golovin always began by closely studying the period and country, before starting work on the sets and costumes. He never copied details and ornaments from other works; everything was composed in correspondence with his own ideas and notions of the period in question. The artist was personally acquainted with the actors of the Alexandrinsky Theatre and designed each costume in 1910 with a specific performer in mind. He paid close attention to the forms of their figures, altering the costumes if the actor was replaced by a double. His designs often included notes and comments for the tailors and seamstresses, correctly believing that each theatrical costume should be utilitarian. The main image was often accompanied by inscriptions and supplementary drawings, explaining the exact cut or individual details of the costume. As a result, the actors grew into their roles to such an extent that, on stage, they created the impression of the real theatre of Molière. Dom Juan was set to the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau and premiered at the Alexandrinsky Theatre on 9 November 1910. Vladimir Telyakovsky, director of the Imperial Theatres, described this event: “Astoundingly beautiful decorations by Golovin. The time of Louis XIV was captured down to the smallest detail, beginning with the props and ending with the gorgeous costumes... The auditorium looked elegant. From the first act onwards, they demanded the actors, the director Meyerhold and the designer Golovin.” Sergei Ausländer wrote: “This was a fantasy, an act of perfection by a modern artist, who created a grand splendour possibly beyond the wildest dreams of Louis XIV and his actors. This was not dry museum history; it was a vivid dream of the past, a refined fiction merging the genuine with the imaginary.” The title role was performed by Yury Yuriev. As Alexander Golovin recalled: “Yuriev was a very young and handsome Dom Juan. He sported a large wig with golden curls; the ribbons, bows and lace shook as if aflame. His costume he wore with impeccable taste. He was sufficiently affected and enchanting and somewhat fanciful – a true actor from the days of Louis XIV – with just the right noble and refined manners, austere and stylish beauty and seductively caressing voice.”

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