Actress Maria Germanova in character as a fairy for the 1908 stage production of ‘The Blue Bird.’
The captivating images of actors in full costume and character for a performance of The Blue Bird are apparently the only extant visual reminders of the play as it premiered, originally directed by Konstantin Stanislavski in 1908 at Moscow Art Theatre. Written by Belgian playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck, it has had many adaptations throughout the decades since, most notably the 1940 film by director Walter Lang who cast a twelve-year-old Shirley Temple as an irritable child who, with her brother, set out in search of the Bluebird of Happiness. The intention of 20th Century Fox was to give the smash The Wizard of Oz a run for its money, but it was a dismal box office failure. To its credit, the film would later be nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. Another notable adaptation would come in 1976 when director George Cukor would try his had at another remake of the film this time with starring Elizabeth Taylor. Though it was packed with star power—including Jane Fonda and Ava Gardner—it was a twelve million dollar flop.
At its foundation, Maeterlinck’s play is a story of wistful yearning told from the perspective of a brother and sister who are dissatisfied with their lives. When a fairy becomes aware of their discontent, she sets them off in search of the Blue Bird of Happiness. The pair travel through various fantasy worlds in search of the elusive bird—which serves as a metaphor for their search for their own spirituality. If after reading this description you feel a little lightheaded—it’s perfectly understandable. The Blue Bird is a weirdly, wonderful story that closely parallels plotlines in The Wizard of Oz. The concept for the wildly creative costumes worn by the actors at the Moscow Art Theatre was conceived by the theater’s owner Constantin Stanislavski who enlisted the help of artist V. E. Yevgenoff to create them.
According to historians well versed on the Moscow Art Theatre, which at the time was considered one of the most vital dramatic arts communities in the world, anything connected with the 1908 production was destroyed once WWI commenced in 1914, with the exception of these photographs. Despite their age and lack of color, they are remarkably vivid. While they are all stunning, the images of actress Maria Germanova (who played the mythical fairy in The Blue Bird and is best known for her role in the silent film based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel Ana Karenina) are particularly arresting.
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