A Tale of Three Designers: the mystery of design attribution in Belasco and Long's The Darling of the Gods staged at His Majesty's Theatre, London, in 1903
Society for Theatre Research
Place of Publication
London, United Kingdom
Faculty of Education and Arts
School of Arts and Humanities
In the winter of 1903, actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree staged David Belasco and John Luther Long’s Japanese-themed melodrama The Darling of the Gods. Based on an original Japanese folk tale and set in the period of the samurai downfall, it told a story of the forbidden love between outlawed samurai, Kara, and naïve young princess, Yo-San. The plot seemed to contain all the elements necessary for an opulent melodrama but, as so often with Tree’s endeavours, its success was largely down to its stunning sets and costumes rather than great narrative finesse. Belasco and Long’s 1902 debut on Broadway secured the play’s popularity in New York, and was probably a useful tool for Tree and his team when constructing their version. However, the playwright’s opening run had the significant benefit of employing a Japanese designer on staff, illustrator Genjiro Yeto. His drawings and ideas were interpreted by artist Madame. E. S Freisinger into costume designs, and were declared “rich and gorgeous in colour” by The New York Times (21 November 1902). The credit for costume designs used in Tree’s production can be less confidently attributed, and the mystery surrounding their authorship is the focus of this article. It will also explore the corresponding aesthetic trends and cultural shifts connected to the artistic movement of Japonism, and the implications and complications that influence our reading of theatre design during this era.
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