From its inception, near the close of the sixteenth century, to its modernist transformation in the course of the twentieth, opera thrived in scenic realms that were boundlessly illusionistic while at the same time reliant on a limited typology of locales, such as palatial halls and terraces, temples and churches, city and village squares, ‘delicious’ gardens, and ‘horrific’ caves. If necessary, these settings could be recuperated and adapted, thus becoming stock sets. Which particular loci, forms, colors, and perspectives survived the growing demand for realism, couleur locale, and idiosyncracy, and which music-dramatic registers did they respond to?
This project aims to answer these questions by adding fresh evidence to the discussion: a newly discovered collection of stock sets (décors de répertoire) by Albert Dubosq (1863-1940). Stored at the Stadsschouwburg of Kortrijk since the 1920s, the large drops and flats present copies of generic and operatic sets that could hitherto be only studied from drawings and black-and-white photographs. Being combinable to a surprising extent, this swansong of illusionistic staging not only dismantles the simplistic notion of the stock set but also throws colorful light on a neglected aspect of opera history: the genre’s ‘economical exuberance.’