Edward Clug und Jürgen Rose bescheren dem Stuttgarter Ballett einen durch und durch familientauglichen „Nussknacker“
“I see the whole picture before me”
Celebrating the theatre designer Jürgen Rose’s 85th birthday on 25 August 2022
A gentle murmur of admiration drifts through the auditorium as the curtain opens. The audience holds its breath, there is no coughing, all attention is fixed on the stage. Again, a spell is cast by first impressions: we are viewing Jürgen Rose’s sets and costumes. Such was the reception 60 years ago in Ulm of Rose’s very first production, “Die Rose von Stambul”. And similarly in 2019, this was how the Stuttgart audience received Rose’s new production of Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet “Mayerling”, created for the Royal Ballet in London, 1978 (Music by Franz Liszt arranged by John Lanchbury v. tanznetz 19.05.2019). This was not Rose’s last work; his next is scheduled for 25 November 2022, a new production of “Nutcracker” with choreography by Edward Clug. Again, he will be responsible for the design of the sets and costumes.
To date Jürgen Rose has designed sets and costumes for 356 productions of opera, operetta, ballet and the spoken theatre. He never seems to have repeated himself even if some of the productions are reprisals, or a repeat under another director; each is unique and of exceptional quality while the range of his designs can pendle from opulence to minimalism. Amazingly, he has never had a flop.
Legendary are his costume and set designs for the Cranko ballets: “Romeo and Juliet”, “Firebird”, “Onegin”, “Poème de l’extase”, and Cranko’s last work, “Spuren” as well as the opulent “Sleeping Beauty” of Marcia Haydée. For John Neumeier: “Daphnis and Chloe”, “Nutcracker”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Illusions – like Swan Lake”, “A Summer Night’s Dream”, “The Sleeping Beauty”, “Lady of the Camelias”, “Peer Gynt” and “A Cinderella Story”.
On only two occasions did he design the costumes and not the sets: 1963 for Strindberg’s “King Gustav and Erik XIV” (Münchener Kammerspiele) and 1964 for Mozart’s “Zauberflöte” (Deutsche Oper, Berlin). These were exceptions, for he holds the view that both belong intrinsically together, “During the past 30 years it has become common practice to separate set and costume design. This is unthinkable, I don’t work like that. My designs for “Mayerling” are a result of this conviction. I always see the whole picture before me, I cannot isolate one from the other.”
This approach, in which Rose undertakes both tasks, is the reason why each production exhibits cogency, an accessible logic and, at the same time, its own special aesthetic. Besides which, each assignment is tackled meticulously with a curiosity and care for accurate research regarding historical content that is nowadays seldom applied. Up until the premiere Rose is immersed lock, stock and barrel in the work. In general, whatever progress he is making can only be assessed with models, at lighting rehearsals or costume fittings. For each costume he makes a separate design and for the décor he builds an exact scale model in which filigree cut-out figures and furnishings can be placed. Thoroughness is the reason why his creations are never hasty and whoever wishes to commission work from Rose must plan sufficient time. This a precondition, otherwise he will not be able to achieve the perfection he has set for himself. Three years were needed for “Mayerling”.
At first, Jürgen Rose was extremely reluctant to undertake this commission: designing the sets and costumes of a new production of “Mayerling”. “When I was approached, I immediately said, no. I’ve never, in all the work I’ve done, undertaken a subject that involved something like the documentation of real historical persons; in this case, the Austrian monarchy of the 1880s. There are innumerable photos, paintings and engravings of all the protagonists. With a subject like “Romeo and Juliet”, one can examine books on the Renaissance and say, ‘Yes, I like that, that’s how we’ll do it.’ “Mayerling”, however, is a ballet with historical content, a panorama of a decaying world power. Furthermore, there was no choreographer with whom I could confer or exchange ideas. MacMillan has been dead for some years.”
Rose was aware of the original version of “Mayerling” designed by Nicholas Georgiadis in which MacMillan’s ingenious choreography is almost overwhelmed by extravagantly laden pomp. Clearly, this was not for him. If he were to undertake the assignment, it would certainly look quite different. The question was, would it please Lady Deborah MacMillan who had inherited the rights to the piece? He had his doubts.
But exactly for this reason Tamas Detrich, Stuttgart Ballet’s recently appointed ballet director, had engaged him. Detrich was convinced that Rose would bring something excitingly fresh to the ballet - something true, clear and pure. It would provide an appropriate kick-off for his first season, after the 22 year directorship of Reid Anderson.
In the end, what broke down Rose’s resistance to undertaking the project was a dream. He and his husband, Max, who functions as his assistant in photographic and digital matters, were visiting Marcia Haydée in her home at the foot of the Schwäbischen Alp. The visit was prompted by Rose’s indecision about the project. But before they left, Max had said, “If we go to Marcia, you will be lost. She will make you change your mind.” And he was right. On the morning after this meeting, with Rose still procrastinating, Marcia told of a dream she had had that night. She said that Cranko had appeared in it and that MacMillan was standing behind him. It was about “Mayerling”. Cranko had said, ‘Jürgen must do it.’” This, Marcia’s last resort, had the desired effect, “Bringing Cranko into the picture broke down all my resistance, I was powerless. I could only retort: ‘Alright, I’ll do it, but only if you participate – as the Archduchess Sophie!’ To which Marcia replied, ‘Yes, but only if I have the longest train to my costume.’” The role of the austere Archduchess Sophie, Kaiser Franz Josef’s mother and Archduke Rudolf’s grandmother, is a representative role. She does not dance in the ballet but portrays a figure of dignity and grandezza. If anyone can portray this role, then it is the 85 year old Marcia Haydée. Indeed, Rose had similar casting assignments from the ranks of former stars of the ‘Stuttgart Miracle’ up his sleeve: the now 80 year old Egon Madsen as Kaiser Franz Josef, and Georgette Tsinguírides – 94 year old former dancer and choreologist of the company - as the Archduchess Sophie’s lady in waiting.
This was the state of planning at the beginning of 2016 before the undertaking became a journey into the dark past of Austrian history as well as an examination of the ballet itself and all the aspects involved. At the end of the meeting Marcia sent Rose off with her blessing, “Jurgen, do exactly what you consider right for the ballet.”
MacMillan’s ballet “Mayerling” depicts the last years of the Austrian crown prince, Archduke Rudolf, son of the Emperor Franz Josef and the Empress Elisabeth – the famous Sisi. From a tender age, Rudolf, artistically inclined, was forced by his father into military drill. He never really recovered from this constraint; never being able to explore his inclination or talent for the arts. Certainly, his arranged marriage to the Belgian Princess Stephanie was one of incompatibility. Emotional needs were, rather, directed to the courtesan Mizzi who kept a Tavern – read brothel - and whom he left a considerable sum of money in his last will and testament. World-weary, marked by syphilis and addicted to morphine, Rudolf fostered an ineluctable craving for death. In the 17 year old Mary von Vetsera he found a fellow spirit. Youthfully naïve, she had come under Rudolf’s spell and was fascinated by the idea of a joint death. On 30 January 1889, in the Hunting Lodge Mayerling, Rudolf, only 31 years old, first shot Mary von Vetsera and then himself.
This was an eruptive scandal of the first order that descended on the Imperial family and which had to be covered up - the crown prince a murderer and a suicide! The Hapsburg dynasty would never survive it; all circumstances surrounding Mary von Vetsera’s death had to kept secret. For that reason, Rudolf’s valet, Loshek, had Mary’s dead body placed in a hastily carpentered coffin and surreptitiously buried in the nearby Heiligenkreuz cemetery. Rudolf, without further ado, was declared schizophrenic and only through the Emperor’s personal solicitation by the Pope was he permitted a burial with suitable pomp and ceremony in the Kapuziner Crypt. - A person who has committed suicide would never be given Catholic rites.
Many conspiracy theories about Mary von Vetsera’s disappearance made the rounds and her grave was twice desecrated: once in April 1945, when Russian soldiers sought buried loot and then a second time, in 1991, when Helmut Flatzelsteiner, a furniture dealer from Puchenau, had the coffin opened - like a sardine tin. Intent on unravelling the mystery surrounding Mary’s death, he had taught himself how to dissect corpses. His cover flew and Mary’s mortal remains were then sent to the department of forensic medicine in Vienna. To this day the autopsy report has not been found. Only in 2015 did something like the truth about the whole affair emerge when Mary’s farewell letter was found in the safe of a Viennese bank. One had assumed that it had been destroyed after her mother’s death.
Kenneth MacMillan based his ballet “Mayerling” on the eponymous book by Claude Anet published in 1930 and Michael Arnold’s novel “The Archduke” of 1967. The latter was filmed as “Mayerling” in 1968 with Omar Sharif, Catherine Deneuve, James Mason and Ava Gardener. Both books based their material on the memoirs of the valet Loschek who was the first to discover the dead bodies, but who only divulged his knowledge on his deathbed.
In order to do justice to such a shocking historical event, the suicide of Archduke Rudolf and the death of his mistress, Rose felt that the guiding principle for his sets and costumes should be authenticity. “The more I discovered and the deeper I delved into the events surrounding Mayerling, the more I became convinced that authenticity was the answer. I decided to visit all the sites and locations that had anything to do with it: Schloss Mayerling, the Hofburg in Vienna, the Sisi Museum, the Wagenburg, the Villa Hermes and the Historical War Museum with its wardrobes of uniforms.”
First Rose visited Schloss Mayerling in Lower Austria, south-west of Vienna. This proved to be spooky and revelatory at the same time. “At first I didn’t know where it’s located. Today Schloss Mayerling is both a cloister and museum. Immediately after Rudolf’s death, the Emperor Franz Josef had a chapel erected directly over Rudolf’s bedroom, exactly where his escritoire and bed stood and where he shot Mary and then himself. The high altar is right where his bed was. The Order of the Carmelites was ceded the chapel on condition that daily prayers would be offered for the lost son. On one side of the altar there is a room for prayer and directly opposite a statue of the Mater Dolorosa. Curiously this statue has a knife in its body at exactly the same anatomical spot where Sisi was stabbed on 10 September 1898 when she was knifed on the lake promenade in Geneva…this was only one of the weird occurrences we encountered while on our research.
I was insatiable for further details; we were on a high - there was only Mayerling! We inspected innumerable photos and engravings in old books and documents which depicted the original sites and locations. One of the Hofburg’s curators presented us with a giant tome published on the occasion of the Kaiser’s 70th birthday. Max took photos of the most important items – this was an excellent basis for my costume designs and the general atmosphere. One can see everything: all the uniforms, how the family was dressed at various functions like receptions, at breakfast, hunting; then the rooms, the interior decoration...the more we discovered then more it became a sort of maelstrom that pulled me deeper into unfortunate Rudolf story.”
In Sisi’s Villa Hermes in the Lainzer Tiergarten, Rose discovered a table and two chairs with a label: ‘At this table, the Empress Elisabeth and the Burg Theatre actress, Katharina Schratt, often took tea and smoked a Brazil (cigar).’ Rose: “I thought that highly amusing: the Empress smoking a cigar with her son’s lover! Fantastic! They were indeed friends. Sisi even gave Franz Josef a portrait of Katharina Schratt as a birthday present. This happens in the ballet as well as the actress singing an air to her lover! Schratt’s role is one for a singer! I had the idea that the two women should light their cigars after the song but, unfortunately, I couldn’t get that through. The rehearsal assistant vetoed it before I could discuss it with Lady Deborah. ‘No, no, that was not Kenneth’s idea’, he said. Oh well!”
But Rose was able to push through another of his ideas: the Fireworks celebrating Franz Josef’s 70th birthday. In the Stuttgart production it is now visible as such. “In Georgiadis’s version there is a flickering indication of this, but it happens over the heads of people standing in a door frame. One doesn’t know exactly what is happening nor the reason for the gathering. Right from the start, I had in mind a feeling of transparency for the set as a whole and that is why, in the Hofburg, there are three gauzes: the front one sets the scene with Franz Josef and Sisi, behind it are chairs and then further back, behind the last gauze, is an area with a balustrade from where one can observe the night sky. That’s where the Fireworks are projected - a video of real fireworks. It is neither too intrusive or showy but one realizes what is happening. This provoked Lady Deborah to remark, ‘Oh, that’s impossible, that doesn’t work. You have to cover it, it’s only an open door situated in the middle.’ “But that was the joke, nothing was concealed, everything was transparent...I was rather irritated. Dramatically that was the whole point: on the forestage a pas de deux between Sisi and her lover was taking place while in the background the court was watching the fireworks. All are distracted by this activity and hardly anyone notices what the Empress is up to. If one doesn’t understand the irony, then I don’t see the point of the staging. The next day there was a technical rehearsal when the fireworks projection was tried out. It was practically perfect – 9 months before the premiere! We sat, the Lady and I, quite far forward in the auditorium. The set, the gauzes and the furniture, were just about complete and the scene with the fireworks was tried out. She suddenly turned to me, ‘Oh, that’s marvellous, it’s wonderful.’ Exactly the opposite of what her reaction had been the evening before. This often happens: I have often experienced similar scenes. As a set designer one is often at the mercy of such people.”
In order to comprehend “Mayerling” in all its facets, Rose studied the historical background. He discovered, for instance, that the Emperor Franz Josef and his ministers were totally favourable to Hungary and Germany’s aims against France, while Rudolf took the opposite view. For the scene when Rudolf and his companions visit Mizzi, Rose had personally smeared the tavern walls with graffiti: slogans as they could have been, at that time, visible to the soldiers on buildings and transport wagons. The French tricolour – then also forbidden - hangs on the wall. And the pamphlets which are distributed in the tavern provoking a police razzia, are not empty white sheets of paper but contain the political slogans of the time - even if the audience cannot read them. It is this meticulousness in all the smallest details that makes the drama appear so vital and authentic.
The gift of the of a Theatre Deity
One of the most fascinating accounts of how Rose developed his designs for the sets, rooms in which the story takes place, is that of the gauze drops which characterize those spaces. “Judging from the illustrations of the palace rooms in the books we had used for our research, I had the idea that each of the gauze drops should be lit differently. For example, in order to establish a room in a concrete way, it would be lit from the front, taking on a black and white graphic characteristic. Then dimming the lighting for a dramatic pas de deux, that room would appear like a vague silhouette - it would acquire a visionary aspect. That was my inspiration for the first models. For the 13 different scenes, Max photocopied graphic details of the palace rooms illustrated in the books we were using for our research. These were then scanned, collated into designs and printed out on plastic foil. We were thus able to hang them as drops in the models and we thought they looked rather good. After all this preparatory work, Tamas Detrich, Marcia Haydée and Lady Deborah MacMillan came to Munich to pass judgement on my designs. There was general accordance: the black and white set designs were approved.
Nevertheless, however helpful models may be, it is a different story when the drops are seen on the big stage in their actual shape and form. Sadly, the enlarged samples which Max had painstakingly scanned and collated were not good. The contours were not clear and they did not come up to expectation. Rose: “Max had told me right away that I should draw it all. This provoked a bit of a tiff, but eventually I got down to freehandedly drawing one or two examples which Max immediately printed out. They looked pretty good. So, I swallowed the bitter pill and got down to drawing all 13 of the drops – as well as the well-known portraits of Sisi and Franz Josef and Schloss Mayerling!” For this purpose umpteen boxes of black graphite pencils were used up. Other than lead pencils, they cannot be sharpened by a machine; they have to be sharpened by hand with a knife - otherwise their points break off. “In the end my hands were raw, I suppose, I could pun it thus: I drew blood by drawing.”
But one was not out of the wood yet! Rose: “We were working on the second model and had had two drops printed on gauze in the proper dimensions. This process costs a lot but it was one of my conditions: that I am allowed a sample for each room. I have to see it. The idea was that when, due to the lighting, the drop become transparent, I could still see and sense the original design as a silhouette. When we tried out the drop with the Gobelin gauze there was no silhouette to be seen. Nothing. I thought, this cannot be!”
It seemed as if it was the end of the world. Rose fell into a deep depression, doubting everything, even himself. It took some time for him to realize that failure did, in fact, offer a way forward. Rose: “Coming out of my depression I suddenly found a solution. Every scene of the ballet has a dramatic moment, be it in the Hofburg, at the ball, the love scene, the pas de deux between Sisi and Rudolf or the wedding night; MacMillan had choreographed it all fantastically. I realized that the transparent effect I sought could be achieved by lighting two drops one after the other: first the drop furthermost forward and then the one directly behind it. With the change of light, the scene becomes more abstract and the choreography clearer and effectful. My aim was to clarify the story and the characters in it. As the events in the ballet take their course, everything becomes more abstract, more transparent; there is an eschewal of anything concrete. At the end there is only white. This solution was a gift of a theatre deity; I only had to make use of it, even if it had taken me a while to accept.”
Max scanned all Rose’s graphite sketches on a scale of 1:25 on the computer. These were properly combined and scanned at high resolution. Only the forest in the hunting scene was a single sketch and derived from the forest near Rose’s house in Murnau. At the printers the scans were again intensified so that they would not ‘drown’ when printed on the gauzes – a necessity as the largest drop measured 13 metres wide and 11 metres high. In the old Georgiadis version of Mayerling most of the rooms look similar. For Stuttgart, Rose achieved a distinct and typical atmosphere for each of the rooms. He took care in using motives in the gauze decoration as well as the furnishings which could characterize the roles.
Of horses, books and birds
To each of the principal protagonists in “Mayerling”, Rose gave an identifying motive. For Sisi it is horses. She, a passionate equestrian, had a special horse chapel erected in the imperial Wagenburg (corral) of the Schönbrunn Palace, which Rose accidentally discovered on one of his visits to Vienna. The chapel is full of painted portraits of her favourite horses. For that reason, on one of the drops, Sisi is depicted by a large youthful portrait of herself as a rider, while another shows her favourite horses as in the chapel. Back in Vienna, in the Sisi museum in the Hofburg, Rose discovered the sporting equipment which she used for physical exercises. “She was quite fanatical about her body – a facet that is not developed in the ballet but which characterizes her aptly. Indeed, she had two of her ribs removed so that she could fasten her corset tighter! I was very much for her using the gym equipment she kept, even if only briefly.”
In order to give the crown prince Rudolf an identifying symbol, Rose considered the many birds, apart from books, that were associated with him. “Rudolf went on expeditions with Alfred Brehm, the author of “Brehms Tierleben”. He wrote numerous articles under a pseudonym about vultures and eagles in the Carpathians; they can be found in the archives. On the bureau beside his bed there were stuffed birds and avian skeletons as well as a human skull. And then the baldachin above his bed was crowned by an eagle!
Where does one find such objects? Neither raptors nor skeletons of such are two a penny – just think of the protection of the species! Crows, ravens and jackdaws are available but they all look alike. Inquires at a taxidermist yielded prices at about 400 or 500 Euros per bird. Then what about museums?” The Museum of Natural Sciences in Vienna possesses an extensive avian collection and a department of taxidermy and Rose, Max and their assistant Christian Blank duly went there to see what they could find, and yes, it was the appropriate port of call. The department of taxidermy is situated in the gigantic old vaults of the museum’s basement. “There the temperature is extremely hot and muggy. Strewn about were the cadavers of birds or animals awaiting preparation. One had informed us that a big raptor skeleton would be difficult to come by, but we could have a turkey and altering its beak it would give the appearance we needed. We duly ordered such a bird. I was especially interested to how they managed to get the bones so clean. The taxidermist replied; ‘For the last 50 years, that’s what our colleagues have been doing.’ Whereupon he plonked a chest on the table and opened the lid. In the box was the remains of a cat upon which clustered about 2 kilos of black beetles. ‘They’re African beetles and they can completely clean any dead animal of its collagen and sinew within a week. Anything that needs to be eaten clean is put in this chest and then the beetles get to work. That’s why it’s so hot in these rooms; at a lower temperature they just won’t get down to the job.’”
The museum still had a few stuffed birds available because one of the staff used to prepare ravens and other marketable birds for private sale. In a backroom nine such birds were lying about. Seven of them changed hands at a reasonable price and found their way in Rose’s car to Munich.
The museum still had a few stuffed birds available because one of the staff used to prepare ravens and other marketable birds for private sale. In a backroom nine such birds were lying about. Seven of them changed hands at a reasonable price and found their way in Rose’s car to Munich.
“Naturally the taxidermists wanted to know why on earth the gentlemen from Munich needed so many stuffed birds. When they heard that we were preparing a ballet about Mayerling, they were astounded, ‘Good God! What a coincidence – the crown prince! We have his dog!’ And, in fact, there in a corner was Rudolf’s stuffed dog. It was the same animal that can be seen with its master on various engravings. Again, this was one of those incredibly strange coincidences that accompanied us while we were working on the ballet.”
Other strange happenings had occurred in the years long before we started our research. For one thing, during a reprise of his ballet, “Mayerling”, Kenneth MacMillan died of a heart attack - backstage at Covent Garden. And in Santiago de Chile, during a performance of “Mayerling” during Marcia Haydée’s directorship, the whole stage, the ballet studios and three or four complete costume productions went up in flames. Only her office survived the flames intact - as well all her mascots! Rose, “And now we encounter Rudolf’s dog in the catacombs of the Natural History Museum in Vienna. It looked like Rudolf’s ghost was following us during this project. It is nothing for the superstitious...”
A special item of lost property: furniture and the coach
In this production of “Mayerling” everything on the stage looks as if it belongs there, but in truth, it is all intentionally well thought-out planning: the black floor or the black lacquered furniture belonging to the historical period in which those events happened; the black and white covers or the silver-grey quilt on Rudolf’s bed. The use of black for the décor allows the choreography to become more dominant.
But, in Rose’s view, each piece of furniture has to be original. Rose: “I just cannot permit any imitation furniture in my productions. The stuff they had for the London production just looks awful! I have always had a weakness for furniture. I have to be able to see, feel, even sit on it. Generally buying these things from an antique dealer is out of the question, it’s just too expensive. The pieces have to be genuine and old, but reasonably priced.” One can imagine just why no flea market or antique dealer is safe from Jürgen Rose.
The search for suitable furniture for the production took some time. Rose was often dispirited about finding the right objects, but once again his luck was in and another coincidence occurred. “One Sunday, returning from Stuttgart to Munich, we, Christian Blank, Max and I got stuck in a traffic jam. I turned to Christian and asked him if he had made any progress with the furniture. He blushed a bit, answering that things were not going so well. Then he checked his mobile telephone and after a few minutes said; ‘Yes, I’ve found something just outside Munich and it’s on our route; the Antique Halls, and they are opened this week-end.’ Rose: “Max, we’ll drive there, just take a peek, maybe ten minutes or a quarter of an hour.”
Ten minutes turned into 4 hours. Rose: “In the three halls of the antique market we found about half of all the things we needed for the production. This included Rudolf’s bureau which had to be enlarged a little at the back in order to make place for his stuffed bird; of course, from wood and not plastic. Then we found the complete furnishings for the apartment of Mary’s mother, Gräfin Vetsera. They consisted of an original lady’s salon garniture: sofa, two easy chairs, two upright chairs and a table. All, perfect. I hesitated for some time about painting the table black. It was made of mahogany...”
The chairs Rose chose for the Hofburg came from an old Munich production of his, “Nozze di Figaro”. The opera had been in the repertoire for some 20 years and then they were used in another production.
All that was left was a coach. The coach appears in the ballet only 3 times: at the beginning, in the middle and at the end and even if it is briefly on stage, it still makes a dramatic point. Naturally, the coach had to be real, no imitation copy would do! “Imitation coaches are truly awful. No workshop manages to reproduce the handmade springs or the filigree iron work. Such old vehicles are generally in museums or collections and, for that reason, on the open market, are quite expensive: something of the order of 40-50,000 Euros. It was clear, even to Rose, that that would be out of the question. Christian Blank then enquired at the Wagenburg, Schönbrunn, where all the old imperial coaches are kept: if one could loan something like a coupé. This was definitely not a possibility. However, he was told of a coach builder in Lower Austria. This was the address to which any surviving monarch in the world would send such vehicles in need of repair. Blank called, requesting something normal, not too ostentatious but belonging to the 19th century. But no, there was nothing suitable.
Then a few weeks later, the coach builder called. He had something that could possibly be of use. It was a little derelict, but that could be fixed. On one of the wheels was engraved who built it and the year in which it was built: 1858. Exactly at the time Rudolf was alive - more authenticity was not possible. One only had to construct the two horses that were supposedly harnessed to the coach. Actually, all that was needed were the horses’ rumps as that would be the sole part visible. The hooves of the horses would then be mounted on rolls so that the coach could be moved in and out of the scene quickly. The horses’ harnesses came from an old-established saddlery in Upper Bavaria with which Rose had had previous contact. Rose: “They are original old harnesses and look as if they have been used. New ones would be totally inappropriate.” The price for the coach and horses seemed affordable but Rose had to get permission. He telephoned the head of the theatre workshops saying, “We have a coach which seems perfect; the repairs and the horses will cost about 8,000 Euros.” The answer came prompt: “Take them, at all costs1” Only afterwards did Rose realize that a sum of 50,000 Euros had been budgeted for the coach. His demands and needs were known in Stuttgart.
Costumes: an orgy of cloth, tissue and drapery
In the costume departments of German opera houses and theatres Rose is known as a ‘Thunderbolt’: his perfectionism is both feared and loved - even after 27 years of absence back in his former artistic home, Stuttgart. The costume department was on its toes because many of his productions were still in the repertoire and his costumes would still be repaired by the seamstresses. Now that he was here again there was a general alarm about how he always changed things and was so picky. But slowly the initial shyness dissolved into an agreeable and constructive atmosphere.
The basic colours of “Mayerling’s” more than 200 costumes are black, white and all possible shades of grey combined with strong colour accents for the main protagonists. Rudolf’s mistress Countess Larisch, for instance, has green. She introduces him to Mary von Vetsera who has a reddish shade of coral. The other colour accents include: yellow for Louise, Princess Stephanie’s sister, black-red for Mizzi and her fellow girls at the tavern. Princess Stephanie, Rudolf’s bride naturally is in white, while the Empress Sisi is in black and purple. Rudolf is the only male character in a white uniform - with a a sash in the Austrian national colours, red and white. As a basis for his costume designs, Rose and his assistants paged through innumerable books, checking contemporary engravings and photographs, visiting Museums or googling through the data bank of the Austrian National Museum to find any authentic documentation.
The search for suitable material for all these costumes had already begun much earlier. Even if Rose’s costume figurines of 135 characters afford an initial impression of the costumes, later, they would inevitably turn out differently. The reason for this is that the final choice of material might fall on something completely different. Silk, chiffon, satin wool, cotton, georgette, organza, tulle or velvet are not among the less expensive textile products, and Rose is famed for choosing the best quality simply because of its beauty. He does not order the materials without having had a direct, sensual impression of the wares. He has to feel, stroke and see how the fabric falls or moves.
It is not surprising that Rose has his own favourite sources for the choice materials he needs for his costumes. Through his theatre work over the years, his connections to various dealers have been cemented. One is familiar with his unflagging search for just that material for a certain dress, suit or uniform that is in his mind’s eye. When he starts to talk about this area of his profession, there is no end; he can remember events that go back years. Then there’s his passion for Indian saris that he has confected in all possible forms. In memory is his use of the precious gold-threaded silk which he used so extravagantly in Marcia Haydée’s 1987 production of The Sleeping Beauty in Stuttgart. But other than the ostentatious sort of sari, he has also a predilection for the simple, artless cotton saris he discovered decades ago on a private journey to Rajasthan in India - women on the street wore these garments. Another anecdote of a serendipitous find is how he discovered the old blue material he used for Norma’s cloak in the opera of the same name. This came from an African dealer at a Parisian flea market who was reluctant to sell it. In fact, it wasn’t for sale; the dealer used it to wrap up his goods. Rose has an irresistible gift for ultimately getting what he wants or what is in his mind. But never in order to get the upper hand; it is always to serve the artistic project he is working on. Particularly precious materials come from a certain dealer from whom he has frequently purchased goods, otherwise the haute couture provides much when it winnows its out-of-season goods in two halls outside Munich. There Rose hits a high, wallowing in all the embroidery, lace, costly silk and finest wool. If, perchance, he discovers something exceptional, unexpected, it could be that a costume is altered at short notice. Perfection is a never-ending activity...
It was at his usual dealer that he found the fine linen material for Mary Vetsera’s cloak. The colour was coral red. Rose: “On much earlier productions I had started to use a certain red until John Cranko said to me, ‘Jürgen you have to work on your red.’ This was one of the comments he had made that, to this day, has stuck in my mind.” It bore fruit: “For Juliet’s dress in my second version of “Romeo and Juliet”, I used that red; the Marschallin in the Munich “Rosenkavalier” wore it, and now Mary Vetsera in “Mayerling” wears it.”
Sometimes Rose has recourse to his own depot. Hoarded in cupboards and dressers are all sorts of beautiful things he has come across in the course of his professional life – or even things he has inherited from his family. For instance, the cream-coloured lace sleeves of the dress Mary Vetsera wears when she first meets Rudolf, used to be part of a table cloth which once belonged to Rose’s grandmother.
Of Rose’s absolute favourite silk: a pure, smooth, double-sided Indian silk which was earlier available in 30 different colours, now unfortunately available in only 10 colours due to the manufacturing costs, only 1 metre of the material in ‘Rose red’ was left in his depot. A calamitous situation: this would never be enough for Rose’s intentions. That’s when the bargaining began: “When I did “Rosenkavalier” in Munich in 1972, I used this silk for just one negligée. I knew that the costume department had, since that time, a whole roll stored away. I phoned them to ask if I could have part of it. They said that they had 22 metres of the stuff and I could have half of it... Well, that was a bit tight, because when one prepares costumes there are usually three casts. And for the role of Mary there were 5! To solve the problem, we prepared a large bow in ‘Rose red’ that could be attached to the costume of the dancer who was due to dance the role. The dressers don’t really like to do these adjustments, but there you are, there was no other solution.
Additional to his special sources for fabrics, Rose and the costume department heads attend industrial fairs of the fashion industry from all over the world and purchase fabrics in every variety of colour, variation and quality. One orders two or three metres of particular samples and then tries them out in combination with for the intended costumes. After a selection has been decided upon, an appropriate quantity is ordered. Rose: “Once while visiting one of these fairs, we met a Japanese man who lives in Italy and who manufactures wonderful synthetic plissées that feel like silk, move beautifully and can be dyed in any colour. These plissées were then combined with many of the “Mayerling” costumes. Sometimes the fabric is integrated discreetly into the costumes, for others it is the dominant material.
Another discovery at the industrial fairs was a so-called cauterized silk – called “pannesamt” and available in mustard, yellow, black and grey. It had to be ordered from China. The fabric was intended for a dress for Princess Stephanie’s sister Louise. When the parcel arrived, there was considerable indignation: it stank to high heaven. Apparently, the goods had been dispatched with a consignment of fish. Rose, “We had to wash it at least three times, but when the velvet was ironed it did not resemble the colour we had ordered. But as the fabric was so beautiful, we felt we had to use it. So, we changed our plans and, in fact, it turned out to save another situation. I had made a mistake with Sisi’s dress, the one she wears during the fireworks. This discoloured velvet was perfect. It was given an underlayer of vibrant red silk – it looked so beautiful and elegant – and was absolutely perfect for Sisi. The accident (Panne) with the silk had its good side.
For the hunt, Rose had the idea that the women would wear outfits in chequered green-grey as can be seen on many photos of hunting parties. This meant that each female hunter would have an individual pattern. However, that was not possible: the printed woollen fabrics would just be too heavy for dancing. Rose was on the point of abandoning his idea of the chequered costumes when the director of the costume department discovered a textile firm in Como, Italy, that could print practically any pattern (even tartan) on silk, thin wool, cotton and linen. One only had to supply the patterns.
And who was responsible for these patterns? Naturally Jürgen Rose himself. He therefore designed all 30 of the chequered patterns, gave them to Max to scan and print out. The prints were sent to Como and a few weeks later the first fabrics arrived. “The colours did not quite match what we had sent, so there was a back and forth to achieve the correct tones. It lasted several weeks but finally we received enough samples of fine, soft wool. The cloth was wonderful in movement. We set about draping it on the mannequin.
Draping: that is the epitome of tailoring! Each garment, be it an evening robe, a suit or uniform is draped and pinned according to the pattern on a mannequin. In this way one can tell which materials can be combined with which and how the material falls. Rose: “In all, we had about a third of the total quantity of material samples left over. So, we spent a whole weekend, alone, trying out combinations of the surplus material with the ball dresses. We wanted to see how many layers of organza or tulle were needed to form the ‘cul’ (bustle) so that it was not too large or small while still remaining beautiful, nor a hinderance when the dancers were lifted.” The draped material would then be carefully detached from the mannequin and a template formed by the wardrobe mistress for the cuts. Details such as bows, lace, rushing, flowers and other accessories would be exchanged or altered, where appropriate, during the fittings.
Rose had great fun with the costumes of the prostitutes in the tavern scene. “Once Max and I were in a shop in Munich which specialized in erotic corsets: either exposed bosom or half covered in red or green damask, patterned or plain with panties. We ordered some of these on the internet – specially corselettes. Theatre workshops can’t do them any better.”
The helmets which the whores wear in the tavern scene, mainly to send up the military, were also a bit of a problem. These helmets are hard to come by, and when one does find them, they are far too heavy for dancing. Eventually we located a firm in Dresden specialising in such armaments, but the proprietor died and we had to start anew. Time was short and we began to get nervous. In the end the wardrobe mistress contacted a friend in Vienna, asking if she knew of anyone who could be of help. The friend remembered a shop in Budapest where she had seen rather fine helmets a year before. And by chance she had a photo of the street in which the shop was located - but no address. Visible was a house number. Again, chance was providential: the chauffeur of the Stuttgart Opera’s Administrative Director was a Hungarian. He made enquiries and having found out the name and address of the shop, telephoned. Yes, they could provide the helmets in question: exact copies with all the embellishments. Once again, Rose obtained all that he desired - as far as his vision for the “Mayerling” project was concerned.
Becoming, being and decay
The basic principles of existence: becoming, being and decay, apply equally to the theatre. Many of Rose’s wonderful sets and costumes are irretrievably lost. The examples are manifold: the sensational 2002 production of Janacek’s “Das schlaue Füchslein”, Richard Wagner’s “Ring des Niebelung” which he created with Dieter Dorn for the Geneva Opera House or “Der Rosenkavalier” for the National Theatre, Munich in 1972 which remained, unbelievably, in the repertoire for 50 years. He has collected in his house and garden in Murnau what remains of these productions: the model of the Füchslein (little fox) installed in the middle of his sitting room, in the garden masks of the gods of the Ring watch over the plants. Also in the garden is the giant mask of Neptune from a Munich production of Mozart’s “Idomeneo”, crowned by wandering roses. A stunning summery of Rose’ creations could to be viewed in a grand exhibition in Munich in 2015. One wished it could have been kept as a permanent collection and suitably enlarged when the occasion arose – after all, Rose is still a working artist. This was striking evidence of what true stage craft is.
How does one come to terms with the ephemeral side of theatrical creations? That, after much strenuous effort and invested time, such a body of work can be destroyed because it is no longer performed i.e. part of the repertoire, or that a new director has other plans? Rose: “That is our job, unfortunately. Yes, at first it is hard to accept, but transience is the principle of theatre. It doesn’t matter if one creates for the opera, ballet, or the spoken theatre, it all happens in the moment. And sometime it has to comes to an end – as in life. At times it lasts a little longer. The fact that some of the productions for which I designed the sets and costumes many years ago, are still performed today is something special, but not the rule. For example, in Vienna, they still perform my “Salome” from 1972. That’s when I was in my Klimt period with all the ornamentation in gold and dark green. At the time one knew about Klimt, but he was not fashionable. Today, on the Kärntnersraße – Vienna’s shopping mile - he is ubiquitous, everything is in the Klimt look from door mats to chamber pots! Sometimes I am ashamed that I exploited Klimt so much in that production of “Salome”. Of course, that’s the disadvantage of having a production run so long. But it’s still very beautiful.
Now, at 85 years of age, how does it feel looking back on an opus of 356 works for which he designed the costumes and sets? Is he satisfied with his work? “Satisfied, I don’t know... It is simply a mass of work. I’ve always worked hard, all my life long. Sometimes I ask myself if all that was really necessary. Couldn’t I have made it easier? Apparently not. But I just can’t help myself, I have that sort of drive: one thing directly after another, Actually I am not insatiable for the new, I am just interested. And have never taken a rest. In my fashion, I’m satisfied with what I have done and achieved. I can be robust and fight for what I want. But, it’s always for the thing. I am satisfied when at rehearsal everything functions. When a chair suits a dress, and the dress the performer and everything seems to be happening in a self-evident way...”
Rose confesses that he often wonders if his profession has any sense or justification in view of what is happening in the world today. “At the moment we seemed to have reached a nadir what with the wars and refugees, the suffering and poverty. And then one busies oneself with ridiculous activities like selecting furniture or lace. But I have grown up in this profession, and have lovingly given my it my all. I think I was predestined to do what I have done.
Does he have the feeling that he might have missed out on something? Is there a ballet, a play or opera that he would dearly have liked to have done and the opportunity never came up? The answer came promptly: Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly”. “That is a real dramatic piece – wonderful! But looking back on the previous 60 years, I must say that I was most fortunate to have encountered the people I met and with whom I was able to work. And I was fortunate to make use of the opportunities I was given with commitment. Many are given the chance but one has to rise to the challenge and deliver the goods.
Vital to Rose’s success was surely that, at all times, he was able to remain true to himself. Among other things, John Cranko had initiated his development when the 23 year old Rose had offered him his meticulously drawn designs for “Romeo and Juliet”. This was his first ballet commission and Rose had meticulously executed his designs with rapidograph, ruler and compass. Cranko swept them aside and asked him where his sketches were, “I want to see your own freely drawn sketches.” This was a lesson which Rose freely passes on to his students, many of whom have succeeded in the profession. His careful guidance allows them to develop their own creativity - a wholly personal signature representing their own personality.
Together, all this is what distinguishes a good theatrical designer. And probably a bit more: “All the details have to coalesce; first one asks oneself if what one has in mind is necessary. The answer should be yes, “The chair on stage, the frills on a costume, the medals on the lapel and the feather on the hat: the details are what is important and essential for the whole.” That is why the bouquet of flowers in Sisi’s boudoir is made up of flowers from the field and not an intricate arrangement of exotic flowers. For Sisi loved flowers, something Rose discovered while researching the historical background. In fact, no one can arrange flowers as beautifully as Rose. In his house in Murnau, there are flowers in each room, all gathered from his abundantly flowering garden.
There is however something else that counts, something essential in Jürgen Rose’s life and art. “One has to be humble and bring a sense of respect when dealing with the singers, actors or dancers. That is most important. You are not allowed to put yourself into the limelight. It is the performers. It is all in the service of the theatre piece one is working on. The costumes and the décor are there to help the performers perfect their roles. I have to find what is suitable for whoever is on the stage. That should be part of your DNA. When the curtain rises you are not on stage. It makes no difference if it is sung, danced or spoken on the stage, we are there to serve the work as a whole.”
Translation: Victor Hughes
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