Russian Artists in the United States

The Case of Nicholas Remisoff (1887-1975)

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Charting Nicholas Remisoff’s artistic legacy during his California period, this essay explores his contributions to the cultural landscape of the state and emphasizes his work on live stage productions in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the early 1930s and 1940s. Delineating the critical reception of Remisoff’s work in opera, ballet and theatre in these cities, this essay also highlights the artist’s interactions and key collaborations with other Russian and European émigré artists and reflects on the nature of Remisoff’s particular affinity with Southern California.

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2

See, Joan Wilcoxon, “Noted Palm Springs Artist Says ‘Art is My Religion’,” The Daily Enterprise. A Newspaper for Riverside County (Feb. 8, 1967): pg. 2.

14

In 1928, Remisoff also created sets and costumes for the program Bolm was invited to present at the Library of Congress Festival of Chamber Music in Washington, d.c. In addition to the ballets Arlecchinata (music by Jean-Joseph Casanea de Mondeville), Pavane Pour une Infante Défunte (music by Ravel) and Alte Wein (music by Beethoven), this program included Bolm’s new ballet, Apollo Musagètes. Set to Stravinsky’s music, it featured a setting depicting ruins of a Roman temple, which Remisoff was inspired to create after the 18th c. engravings of ancient Rome by Piranesi. The world premier of the score of Apollo Musagètes, with sets and costumes designed by Remisoff, took place at the Library of Congress chamber music auditorium on April 27, 1928. A black and white photograph of Remisoff’s design for Apollo Musagètes is reproduced in Carbonneau, “Adolph Bolm in America,” 243. For a reproduction of Remisoff’s curtain design for Arlecchinata, see Box 17, Nicolas Remisoff papers, usc Libraries.

16

See, Junius Cravens, “Remizoff of ‘Chauve-Souris’ Fame Designs ‘Coq d’Or’ Settings,” The San Francisco News (Oct. 21, 1933): 5. This was also the Remisoffs’ first visit to California. See, Anon., “Russian Artist Greeted Here.” Unidentified newspaper clipping. Box 8, Nicolas Remisoff papers, usc Libraries.

26

See, Ronald D. Scofield, “ ‘Le Coq d’Or is Sung, Acted by Gay Company.” Le Coq d’Or was subsequently staged on several other occasions in San Francisco (1935, 1938) and Los Angeles (1934). Although the 1938 San Francisco production, which closed the Opera Company’s 16th season, featured setting and costumes designed by Remisoff, it was presented principally as an opera with only incidental dances by corps de ballet. Remisoff’s set and costumes were, nonetheless, noted as “the opera association’s finest asset in this department.” See, Alfred Frankenstein, “Pons, Pinza Share Honors As ‘Coq d’Or’ Closes Season,” Unidentified newspaper clipping, c. Nov., 1938. Box 8, Nicolas Remisoff papers, usc Libraries; Anon., “First s.f. Showing of ‘Le Coq d’Or,” sfc (Nov. 3, 1938): n/p. Also presented as an opera, in Los Angeles Le Coq d’Or was a part of the Los Angeles Grand Opera’s season for 1934. Featuring Remisoff’s set and costumes, the staging took place at the Shrine Civic Auditorium on Nov. 6. In November of 1935, Remisoff’s stage set and costume designs for Le Coq d’Or were displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Art as part of “An Exhibition of Original Designs for Ballet Costumes and Stage Sets.” The exhibition also featured works by Anisfel’d, Bakst, Benois, Larionov, Picasso and several other artists who at different times worked for Diaghilev.

32

Katherine T. Von Blon, “ ‘Sister Beatrice’ Fine Example of Stagecraft,” Sunday Morning. n/d, n/p. Box 8, Nicolas Remisoff papers, usc Libraries. In creating these exquisite light arrangements, Remisoff relied on his prior experience of devising light effects for Bolm’s experimental ballet Visual Mysticism, for which the artist also created matching abstract sets, and the ballet A Christmas Carol in which Remisoff experimented “with the idea of using lighting as décor, employing a scrim and dissolves between scenes.” See, Carbonneau, “Adolph Bolm in America,” pp. 238-239. Both ballets were presented as part of the third Chicago Allied Arts season (1926-1927) and Remisoff’s work was noted by the local critics for its excellence.

55

See, Viola Hegyi Swisher, “ ‘Firebird’ Ballet Event Lures Throng,” Hollywood Citizen News (Aug. 28, 1940): n/p.

60

In 1946, in Los Angeles, Remisoff collaborated with Michael Chekhov (Chekov) on the production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Inspector General (Revizor), which was staged at the Las Palmas Theatre (1642 North Las Palmas Ave.) through the efforts of the insipient The Actors’ Lab collective. The idea for the staging purportedly belonged to Sergei Bertenson (Serge Bertensson), who also prepared for the occasion (in collaboration with the American writer, Arnold Belgarde) a new English translation. For more detail on the inception of this production, The Actors’ Lab, Sergei Bertenson, Michael Chekhov, Remisoff and the artist’s role in and contribution to the project, see Sergei Bertenson, “ ‘Revizor’ v Hollivude,” Russkaia zhizn’ (Russian Life, Nov. 21, 1946): n/p. By and large, the staging was received favorably by the press: reviewers praised Chekhov’s direction and ability to handle a large cast, actors’ performances and Remisoff’s sets and costumes, which, according to one critic, gave “so completely the illusion of old Russia.” Perhaps the only point of contention was in fact the quality of Bertenson and Belgarde’s translation. See, j.d.g., “Gogol Play Below Actors’ Lab Best,” Reporter (Oct. 9, 1946): n/p; Virginia Wright, ‘Stage Review. ‘The Inspector General,’ ” Daily News (Oct. 9, 1946): n/p; Anon., “Actors’ Lab Production Well Acted,” Citizen News (Oct. 9, 1946): n/p. For a critical assessment of Chekhov’s direction and actors’ performances, see also Milton Luban, “The Inspector General,” Hollywood Press Times (Oct. 11, 1946): pp. 12-13.

Figures

  • The Century Roof Theatre, New York, as decorated by Nicholas Remisoff in the Style of Russian fairy-tales. The wall to the left features a scene from Petr Ershov’s Konek-gorbunok (The Humpbacked Horse, 1834).

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Adolph Bolm and Ruth Page performing in front of the Chicago Allied Arts drop curtain designed by Nicholas Remisoff. Chicago, ca. 1925-1926.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Nicholas Remisoff and Adolph Bolm as mad King Dodon in Le Coq d’Or. San Francisco; Los Angeles, 1933-1934.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Nicholas Remisoff (to the right), Adolph Bolm (as King Dodon, sitting on the throne) and other members of the cast photographed against the setting designed by Remisoff. San Francisco; Los Angeles, 1933-1934.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Nicholas Remisoff designing costumes for Max Reinhardt’s production of Goethe’s Faust. Los Angeles, 1938.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • 16th c. Bavarian village—set designed by Nicholas Remisoff for Max Reinhardt’s production of Goethe’s Faust, Los Angeles, 1938.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Nana Gollner as the Firebird and Thomas Ladd as Ivan Tsarevich in Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Los Angeles, 1940.

    courtesy of the adolph bolm collection, music division, library of congress

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  • Nicholas Remisoff: watercolor sketch for a costume of Koschei the Immortal in Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Los Angeles, 1940.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Nicholas Remisoff: watercolor sketch for a costume of Ivan Tsarevich in Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Los Angeles, 1940.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Nicholas Remisoff: conceptual design for the final scene of Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Los Angeles, 1940.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

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  • Hollywood Bowl production of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Los Angeles, Aug. 27, 1940.

    courtesy of the music center archives / otto rothschild collection

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  • Nicholas Remisoff on location at a movie shoot in Los Angeles, ca. 1940s.

    courtesy of the nicholas remisoff collection, university of southern california

    View in gallery

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