Part 261: Thomas G. Moses and “Fabio Romani”
“Fabio Romani,” a Tale of the Dead, by Aiden Benedict was based on Marie Correlli’s 1886 novel “The Vendetta.” A deceived husband feigns suicide and disguises himself to torture his unfaithful wife, finally killing her when he reveals his true identity.
The show was advertised as a “spectacular drama” with “startling scenic surprises, including “a Thrilling Earthquake Effect, an Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Illumination of the Bay of Naples. Forming a Most Magnificent Spectacular Tableau” There was a dual role of Fabio Romani and Conte Caesar Olivia performed by Walter Lawrence. Nina, a “weak and faithless woman”, was played by Miss Francis Field. A special feature was the famous serpentine dance by Szerina. Newspaper articles noted that the stage settings were particularly beautiful and effective. They were painted by Thomas G. Moses.
The January 6, 1893, issue of the Dramatic Standard described the scenic effect: “At the final scene, Nina is entombed alive by her wronged husband in a mausoleum. In the climax of the subterranean commotion the huge tomb sinks out of sight and reveals dwellings falling in ruins, the earth rocking and rent with fiery fissures, while Mount Vesuvius in the background belches forth a huge column of fire and smoke, and pours red streams of lava upon the city of Naples at its feet.”
This description brought to mind the 17th and 30th degree settings for the Ancient and Accept Scottish Rite. The twelfth installment for “Tales of a Scenic Artist and Scholar” examines the volcanic eruption in seventeenth degree for Fort Scott, Kansas.
The 17th degree of the Scottish Rite can be one of the most exciting degree productions on a Masonic stage. Lighting flashes, thunder rumbles, the ground trembles, and a volcano explodes, toppling buildings in the foreground of a painted composition. A red plume of lava shoots into the air, while rivulets of lava stream down the mountainside and gradually spill into a lake. Slowly, the sky and water become a bright blood red.” It sounds a bit like the scenic illusion presented for “Fabio Romani,” doesn’t it? This was just one of many popular stage effects that was a popular hit for late-nineteenth century audiences.
The Scottish Rite’s staging in the seventeenth degree relates to the breaking of the seven seals in the Book of Revelations. Cataclysmic events occur and a variety of painted visions are magically revealed in transparent sections of the composition.
Fort Scott and Winona Scottish Rite stages had small drops for the various visions. The scenic studios used tried and true formulas to develop the settings for Masonic degree productions
The first time I documented this impressive scene was during a scenic evaluation at the Winona Scottish Rite Theatre in 2010. There, local volunteers assisted in a brief semi-staging of the scenic effects – without the lighting or flashing lights.
Unfortunately, the City of Winona failed to fix the stage roof and the scene continued to suffer from constant water damage. Even when it was put into temporary storage, it was a shadow of its former self. That scene is currently up for auction and has a slim chance of being seen in its entirety again in any performance venue. Similarly, in Fort Scott, I again staged the scene prior to removal and transportation to a storage facility in Minnesota. Likewise, I doubt that this spectacular stage effect will ever be presented to any audience. People can’t value what they don’t understand.
The volcano scene for each location was labeled “17th degree Vision” or simple “Vision.” “Vision” was the title designated by the Sosman & Landis for this particular degree. Each design could include a variety of scenic effects, dependent on the amount of money that the client was willing to invest. Flowing lava rivulets, crumbling buildings, blood-red water – all was possible if you had sufficient funds. Elaborate paintings with complex rigging incorporating netting, transparencies, translucencies, and a variety of rigging mechanisms to lower painted panels on the front of the cut drop also came at a price. The Scottish Rite in Fort Scott, Kansas, had a lot of money to include this particular setting, but Winona had even more money.
The Scottish Rite scenery collection installed in Winona, Minnesota, was the most complete Fraternal installation that I have encountered to date. It will never hang as a whole above any stage again. The City of Winona has selected a few drops to retain and the rest will be dispersed; more victims to theatrical homicide leading to a destruction of the past.
To be continued…