Opera Scotland

Oliver Messel Suggest updates

Born Cuckfield, 13 January 1904.

Died Barbados, 13 July 1978.

English designer.

Oliver Messel was one of the most prominent designers of sets and costumes for both opera and ballet in Britain after the war.

He studied in London, at the Slade, and after a brief period as a portraitist began to work as a designer of theatre shows in 1926. He started by producing masks and props for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and designed productions of revues for C B Cochrane. One of his earliest great successes, in 1931, was a musical comedy, Helen, by A P Herbert and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Perhaps his most famous single design was for Ninette de Valois' staging of The Sleeping Beauty that opened the first appearance at Covent Garden after the war of what is now the Royal Ballet.

His most notable opera productions included The Magic Flute, The Queen of Spades and Samson at the Royal Opera House. At Glyndebourne he was responsible for Der Rosenkavalier in addition to several productions that came to Edinburgh, including Ariadne auf Naxos, Idomeneo and three of the Festival's famous Rossini stagings - La cenerentola, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Le comte Ory.

He had always kept up a practice as an interior designer, and when he retired from theatre work in his mid-fifties, he went to live in the Caribbean. There he found a new career restoring, decorating, and eventually designing from scratch a large number of properties on Barbados and Mustique.

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