20000 Objects in Opera Property Room, part 3, 1912

The following is the third portion of an article which first appeared in the New York Sun in 1912. You can catch up on the first part and the second part.

In “Donne Curiose” there are short columns on which candlesticks are placed. But they are always called “Pique Dames” columns because they were made for it in the first place. The same way with some tablecloths which are used in several productions. The plot book always calls them “Traviata tablecloths” because they were first provided for that opera.

More interesting even than the size of this great mass of material is the attention to artistic and historical veracity in its selection and designing. One would think the same swords and spears could be made to do duty in many operas. Of course, the same ones occasionally reappear, as in the Ring, but not often. Even the poles to which banners and pennants are attached are not the same in “Carmen,” for instance, as they are in “Le Cid” or “Le Prophète.” The fashion in the metal points which crown these poles wasn’t any more the same in different periods than the style of headgear was the same for Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.

So just because of that one detail there are a dozen different sets of these poles and spears at the opera house. Probably not half a dozen persons in the audience would know whether a spearhead was historically correct even if they happened to notice its shape. But if the point was radically wrong some one would be sure to see it and apparently wouldn’t be able to see anything else in the entire production. Not long ago one of these particular persons wrote to the management complaining about the revolvers in “The Girl of the Golden West.”

Oddly enough this connoisseur of guncraft was a woman. She said she was amazed that the Metropolitan Opera Company, usually so careful about historical accuracy, should have in the Puccini opera pistols so unlike those carried by the gold seekers in ’49. As a matter of fact those guns are genuine old ones secured at considerable cost and trouble.

Then there is the detail of playing cards. Anybody would think a pack of ordinary cards would serve every purpose. Not at the Metropolitan! Those in “The Girl” are American cards; those in “Carmen” are foreign ones with quite different pictures from ours, and those in “Donne Curiose” are a different shape, much longer and wider than cards of the present day.

This article will continue in a later post. It was originally published in the New York Sun, February 25, 1912, page 16.