Historical Scenic Design (Alexander Adducci)

Artstor has partnered with Alexander F. Adducci, former chair of the School of Theatre and Dance at Northern Illinois University, to present approximately 2,800 images of late 19th to early 20th century scenic design from American operatic theaters. Adducci was instrumental in bringing an extensive collection of scenery and archival materials from the Lyric Opera of Chicago to Northern Illinois University. Now housed in the Arts Annex of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the Historic Scenic Collection is one of the largest scenic collections in the world. Adducci serves as the curator of this collection, which includes elements from almost 90 opera settings, with approximately 900 backdrops and borders, over 2,200 framed scenic units, and 120 maquettes. It comprises virtually the entire repertoire of operas produced by Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company, and also documents the development of opera theater in Chicago, with examples of theatrical scenery from the Chicago Civic Opera Company, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and the Chicago Opera Association. With an excess of 5 million square feet of painted surfaces, the Historic Scenic Collection preserves examples from 1889–1932, considered to be the "golden age" of scene painting. Designed and painted by noted American and European scenic artists, the sets reflect the influence of contemporary design styles such as realism, romanticism, impressionism, modernism, and Art Nouveau. There are examples of numerous painting techniques (marbling, wood graining, foliage, mosaics, atmospheric effects, etc.), whether employed to evoke an aesthetic of romantic fantasy or historical accuracy.

Representative samples from the Historic Scenic Design have been available to theater professionals and educators as color slide sets for some time. Adducci has digitized approximately 2,800 slides from the collection, depicting early 20th century designs, and has contributed them to Artstor. In so doing, this unique archive of scene painting and opera design will become more widely available to scholars, teachers, and students in the Digital Library, thereby preserving an ephemeral art form for scholarly and educational uses.