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Curtain Call

Posted by Team APATA | Aug 19, 2020

The role of the main curtain in a theatre is to welcome and hold the growing excitement of incoming audiences. You know that feeling you get when you see that closed curtain? You get little goosebumps, you elbow your mate sitting next door with a grin. It raises the anticipation factor for what is to come. A play, a musical, a school concert, a star or your local seniors choir. The curtain lets you know something is coming, that soon all will be revealed. All you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

John Coburn was the Ingham-born artist commissioned by Peter Hall – architect Jorn Utzon’s relacement, to create the main curtains for the Sydney Opera House Theatres. Hall was intent on shining a light on Australian artists and with John Olsen’s “Five Bells” featuring in the Concert Hall foyer, John Coburn’s Curtain of the Sun and Curtain of the Moon would grace The Theatre of the Sun [now known as the Joan Sutherland Theatre] and the Theatre of the Moon [now the Opera House Drama Theatre] upon completion. Unfortunately not long after the 1973 opening certain opera and theatre companies claimed the abstract curtains dominated the stage and set a pre-show tone not matching their productions’artistic visions. When the curtains were also found to be a fire hazard they were removed to be chemically treated and subsequently never returned to their rightful place.

John Coburn and his family spent three years in Felletin, France where he worked closely with the weavers of Pinton Freres, a globally revered carpet and tapestry company. The master weavers used all Australian wool to hand weave the mammoth tapestries and their vibrant colours reflected John’s passion for the Flora of his Northern Queensland upbringing. The curtains made a reappearance for public viewing upon Coburn’s death in 2006. Having since been carefully restored by the Opera House team including John’s son Stephen, the tapestries were then given a one-day public viewing in 2019 for 1500 people and have since returned to an Opera House storage facility.

John Coburn's Tapestries at Sydney Opera House | ABC Arts

For decades, John Coburn's stunning tapestries, which were hung as curtains in the Sydney Opera House throughout the 1970s, have been hidden away in their basement.

Posted by ABC Arts on Monday, 13 July 2020

A great resource on the restoration of the curtains can be found HERE.

Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England

In 1998 when Christie Hadsel spied a painted theatre curtain at the Vergennes Opera House in Vermont she had no clue that she would spend the next 15 years trawling through small town community halls and theatres looking for any painted stage curtains they may have. 500 individual painted theatre curtains made between 1890 and 1940 have been catalogued and Christine and teams of local volunteers have restored nearly half of them. These glorious throwbacks are often filled with street scenes or picturesque spots from their home towns, other are filled with advertising of local stores and services. A true depiction of times gone by.

Many of the restored curtains have been returned to pride of place at town meetings and other community gatherings, and because of Hadsel’s determination will bear witness to another 100 years of community service.  Christine has released an art book filled with images by Carolyn Bates of the rejuvenated curtains called ‘Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England, published by David Godine.

Christine’s conservation efforts are documented on her website Curtains Without Borders.

The State Theatre Curtain – A working museum piece for the modern stage.

Over three months Graham Bennet, Paul Kathner, Ross Turner, Kevin Pierce and Peter Petit hand-painted the red velvet curtain of the State Theatre, which is one of Victoria’s greatest performing arts treasures. Designed by Graham Bennet in 1984 the State proud curtain features the Victorian coat of arms, the state motto, the Southern Cross and native flora and fauna most notable – the Lyrebird’s fanned tail at centre stage. Luminescent in gold leaf impasto the design of the curtain shimmers and shines in a way that has caught it’s audiences eye for coming up to 40 years.

Other curtains of note

The Mariinsky Theatre [built in 1860] – St Petersburg, Russia

The Palais Garnier [built in 1861] – France

The Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater – Georgia [built 1851, the curtain was destroyed by fire in 1973 and after suffering over the years the theatre was returned its former glory in 2016.]


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