Fifteen years ago today Cotsen opened its gallery doors to the public. Perhaps we should have drawn people into the space with a seasonal spooktacular, but the previous day’s ribbon-cutting took all the wind out of our sails. So here to celebrate the occasion are some ghoulish pictures to chill the funny bone and to jolt the brain from Cotsen’s Skelt and Webb Toy Theater Collection.
These pictures of skeletons and their friendly poisonous reptiles come from prints that were part of a juvenile theatre play based on Blue Beard or Female Curiosity!, (1798) a “grand dramatic romance” with script by George Colman the younger and score by Michael Kelly. Colman and Kelly’s dramatic take on Perrault’s celebrated but grisly fairy tale was inspired by French composer Gretry’s opera Raoul Barbe Bleue (1789), but they turned it into an over-the-top “Oriental” fanasy inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. But why skeletons and not djinns?
Think of Shakespeare set during the American Civil War or the Roaring Twenties. It’s the concept, not historical accuracy, that counts. If Colman and Kelly could reconceive Bluebeard as Abomelique, the Turkish tyrant or three-tailed bashaw who was preceded by a standard of horse tails (oh yes, there were live horses on stage), then it’s not such a leap of imagination to have the wife-killing villain stabbed to death by a skeleton and escorted down to hell by a platoon of his vengeful friends. No wonder the critics hated Colman and Kelly’s alternative to the holiday pantomime and the audiences loved it.
And if this comes knocking at your door tonight, throw away the healthy treats!
Thanks to Mr. Cotsen for making this blog, and everything else Team Cotsen does possible!