Monday, July 16, 2018

Joseph Urban Designed Sets for Two World Premieres at Met Opera


Summary: Austrian American costume and set designer Joseph Urban designed sets for two world premieres at the Metropolitan Opera over an almost 16-year career.


Both world premieres designed by Joseph Urban were operas that the Metropolitan Opera commissioned from American composer Joseph Deems Taylor; Taylor’s portrait, Dec. 6, 1932, by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964): Van Vechten Collection/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Austrian American Art Deco architect and costume and scenic designer Joseph Urban designed sets for two world premieres at the Metropolitan Opera during his almost 16-year Met Opera career.
The Metropolitan Opera Archives Database credits Vienna, Austria-born designer Joseph Urban (May 26, 1872-July 10, 1933) with designs for 55 productions at the opera house. Urban designed for 29 new productions, 14 U.S. premieres, 10 Metropolitan Opera premieres and two world premieres.
American composer Joseph Deems Taylor (Dec. 22, 1885-July 3, 1966) composed both of the two world premiering operas designed by Urban. The King’s Henchman and Peter Ibbetson represent the first commissions offered by The Metropolitan Opera. Giulio Gatti-Casazza (Feb. 3, 1869-Sept. 2, 1940), The Metropolitan Opera’s general manager from 1908-1935, assigned the commissions to Taylor.
The King’s Henchman’s world premiere took place Feb. 17, 1927, at the Metropolitan Opera. Taylor composed his three-act opera for an English language libretto by American playwright and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (Feb. 22, 1892-Oct. 19, 1950). The mytho-historical libretto concerns the love triangle of 10th century King of England Eadgar the Peaceful (ca. 943-July 8, 975), his eventual Queen consort Aelfrida of Devon (ca. 945-ca. 999/1001) and Aelfrida’s first husband, East Anglian ealdorman (Old English: “elder man”) Aethelwold (died 962).
The King’s Henchman received a total of 17 performances over three consecutive seasons. The opera’s premiere season featured seven performances. Six performances were offered in the next season, 1927-1928. Four performances took place in Met Opera’s 1928-1929 season. The last performance occurred March 28, 1929.
Peter Ibbetson opened Feb. 7, 1931, as the second world premiere with Urban’s designs. Taylor composed his same-named score for a libretto by English actress and scriptwriter Constance Collier (Jan. 22, 1878-April 25, 1955). Franco-British cartoonist and novelist George du Maurier’s (March 6, 1834-Oct. 8, 1896) first novel, published in 1891, inspired Collier’s libretto. Peter Ibbetson concerns a childhood dream world revisited for 30 years by star-crossed lovers Peter and Mary.
Peter Ibbetson received a total of 22 performances over four consecutive seasons. The opera’s premiere season offered 10 performances. Eight performances took place in the following season, 1931-1932. The 1932-1933 season featured three performances. Two performances occurred in the 1934-1935 season. The last performance took place April 4, 1935.
Viennese stage director Wilhelm von Wymetal Sr. (1862-Nov. 11, 1937) directed the productions of both of Taylor’s operas at Met Opera. Including the two world premieres, Urban designed for a total of 24 productions directed by Wymetal. Wymetal-Urban productions also launched four Metropolitan Opera premieres and six U.S. premieres. The Wymetal-Urban team also opened 12 new productions of operas already in the Metropolitan Opera’s repertoire.
Urban’s Met Opera career began Nov. 17, 1917, with his debut as designer for the opera house’s new production of Faust by French Romantic Era composer Charles-François Gounod (June 17, 1818-Oct. 18, 1893). Polish film and theatre director Ryszard Ordynski (Oct. 5, 1878-Aug. 13, 1953), anglicized as Richard Ordynski, was the new production’s director. Met Opera’s revivals of Urban’s Faust designs continued through the 1950-1951 season.
In addition to designing for film, opera and theatrical productions, Joseph Urban designed Art Deco buildings as an architect. Urban’s extant buildings in the United States include Palm Beach, Florida’s Mar-a-Lago and Paramount Theatre Building; Hamburg, New Jersey’s abandoned Gingerbread House; and New York City’s Hearst Tower base and New School.
Joseph’s Urban Room, perched on the 17th floor of the Grant Street addition to the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, opened May 9, 1929, as an Art Deco “bower of beauty” with an elegant motif of black Carrara glass and gold. Urban’s multi-rayed chandelier, suspended by cascading bronze tubes, still hangs from the tree-of-life ceiling mural as the Urban Room’s centerpiece. In 1979, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) designated the Urban Room as a Historic Landmark.
The takeaways for Joseph Urban’s set designs for two world premieres at the Metropolitan Opera are that the Austrian American designer decorated a total of 55 productions during his almost 16-year career at the opera house for Two World Premieres at Met Opera and that examples of his architectural output still remain in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Omni William Penn Hotel’s Urban Room, designed by Joseph Urban, with rayed chandelier suspended from tree-of-life muraled ceiling; Jan. 12, 2008: John M (jsmjr), CC BY SA 2.0, via Flickr

Acknowledgment
My special thanks to:
Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.
Image credits:
Both world premieres designed by Joseph Urban were operas that the Metropolitan Opera commissioned from American composer Joseph Deems Taylor; Taylor’s portrait, Dec. 6, 1932, by Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964): Van Vechten Collection/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons @ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Deems_Taylor_portrait_by_Carl_Van_Vechten.jpg
Omni William Penn Hotel’s Urban Room, designed by Joseph Urban, with rayed chandelier suspended from tree-of-life muraled ceiling; Jan. 12, 2008: John M (jsmjr), CC BY SA 2.0, via Flickr @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsmjr/2191001764/

For further information:
Anthony and Chris (The Freakin’, ‘Tiquen Guys). “The Central Park Casino, Joseph Urban’s Long, Lost New York City Night Club.” Driving for Deco. Nov. 8, 2015.
Available @ http://www.drivingfordeco.com/the-central-park-casino-joseph-urbans-long-lost-new-york-city-night-club/
Anthony and Chris (The Freakin’, ‘Tiquen Guys). “A Pittsburgh ‘Urban’ Surprise!” Driving for Deco. Nov. 26, 2016.
Available @ http://www.drivingfordeco.com/a-pittsburgh-urban-suprise/
“Debuts: Thomas Chalmers, Pierre Monteux, Joseph Urban.” MetOpera Database > [Met Performance] CID: 67050 New production Faust {294} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 11/17/1917.
Available @ http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=BibSpeed/fullcit.w?xCID=67050
Marriner, Derdriu. "Mar-a-Lago Architect Joseph Urban Also Designed Sets at Met Opera." Earth and Space News. Monday, July 9, 2018.
Available @ https://earth-and-space-news.blogspot.com/2018/07/mar-lago-architect-joseph-urban-also.html
Mayhew, Augustus. “Building Mar-a-Lago: Majorie Merriweather Post’s Palm Beach Showplace.” The Shiny Sheet®: Palm Beach Daily News > News > Local News. Feb. 5, 2017.
Available @ https://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/local/building-mar-lago-marjorie-merriweather-post-palm-beach-showplace/BNcXr356xhT3AdEVKyIR3J/
“New Production: Faust.” MetOpera Database > [Met Performance] CID: 67050 New production Faust {294} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 11/17/1917.
Available @ http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=BibSpeed/fullcit.w?xCID=67050
Proctor, Samuel; Nancy K. Beinke; and F. Blair Reeves. “Mar-a-Lago.” Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). HABS no. FLA-195. Washington DC: Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1967-1972.
Available @ http://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/fl/fl0100/fl0181/data/fl0181data.pdf
Sophia. “This Abandoned Gingerbread Castle in New Jersey Is Like Something From a Horror Movie.” Only in Your State > New Jersey. Feb. 5, 2017.
Available @ http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/new-jersey/gingerbread-castle-nj-usa/
Tufaro, Nicholas. “The Gingerbread Castle.” Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS). HALS No. NJ-4. Washington DC: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Dec. 18, 2009.
Available via Library of Congress @ https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/nj/nj1800/nj1833/data/nj1833data.pdf
“World Premiere: The King’s Henchman.” MetOpera Database > [Met Performance] CID: 95450 World Premiere The King's Henchman {1} Metropolitan Opera House: 02/17/1927.
Available @ http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=BibSpeed/fullcit.w?xCID=95450
“World Premiere: Peter Ibbetson.” MetOpera Database > [Met Performance] CID: 107390 World Premiere Peter Ibbetson {1} Matinee ed. Metropolitan Opera House: 02/7/1931.
Available @ http://archives.metoperafamily.org/archives/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=BibSpeed/fullcit.w?xCID=107390

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