Although much of the world knows Paul Troubetzkoy for his wonderful sculptures and paintings, he also was a notable influence in the period of time known as the Golden Age of Opera.
During this time that roughly spanned 1860 to 1920, different operatic styles were performed and celebrated. The form moved into Eastern Europe and Russia, and some composers such as Puccini, Verdi, Toscanini, and Wagner were considered celebrities. Toward the end of the period, audio technology allowed some artist’s voices to spread worldwide with radio, making their music even more accessible to the masses.
The feelings and thoughts and the spectacle of opera also dovetailed nicely into the overall spirit of the Enlightenment.
Troubetzkoy fit well into this world and became close friends with many noted composers and singers. He took in many performances and portrayed many performers, producers and patrons in his works of art, sometimes portraying his subjects in the costume and role they performed in.
That he loved opera wasn’t surprising. His mother was an American opera singer, Ada Winans. His childhood home in Italy’s Lake Maggiore always included traveling musicians, composers, painters and other artists.
As he became serious about his art, he surrounded himself with other creative individuals, some being known as the Scapigliatura, a group of painters, poets, writers and musicians. He befriended Giacomo Puccini right at the time his first opera was being performed.
He gladly accepted commissions from members of high society, who were often fellow opera lovers as well as patrons. Often, they were his friends and colleagues at first but then he invited them to sit for portraits.
As we look closer at Troubetzkoy’s sculptures and paintings over his lifetime, there were several prominent opera-inspired works. These included:
- Giacomo Puccini. Several pieces were made portraying the noted composer. While many of Troubetzkoy’s pieces were small, one prominent life-size piece he created was a statue of the composer which still remains at his villa at Torre del Lago. It shows him smoking and with his trademark bowtie. This statue, built in 1924, was based on a cast he created in 1912.
- Enrico Caruso. A piece showing the famed tenor Enrico Caruso was made in 1910. Caruso was one of the first singers to be commercially recorded, which began as early as 1902. Troubetzkoy’s captured the image of him in his bronze, wearing the costume from Puccini’s “La Faniculla del West” in 1910. The bronze was presented during the show’s gala premier at New York’s Metropolitan Opera Theater, which was also the first world premier for that particular venue.
- Fedor Chaliapin, the Russian opera singer, was portrayed in a bust when Troubetzkoy was living and creating in Russia for two years, right around the turn of the 20th A mutual friend and arts patron introduced both of them. He actually created two busts, one in bronze and one in painted plaster. A colleague wrote that Troubetzkoy began working on the bust right after hearing Chaliapin sing for the first time.
- Adelaide Aurnheimer, a noteworthy singer, inspired Troubetzkoy to create a bronze of her in 1897. He was able to capture the flowing ball gown she wore in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut.” The realistic bronze was called “After the Ball,” or Dopo il Ballo.