Jessie Drew-Bear, Opera Star Rosina Galli
Rosina Galli (Italian, 1892–1940) made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1914, dancing in a production of Carmen. She became an internationally renowned star, and was the company’s principal dancer until 1929. She served as ballet mistress from 1930 until her retirement in 1934.
This ambitious painting may be a depiction of one of Galli’s most famous roles: the Queen in Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Le Coq d’Or which premiered in the United States with Galli in a leading role in 1918. Rimsky-Korsakov created the opera as an allegorical parody of the Russian tsar, who is portrayed as an incompetent, bumbling fool. The smart and cunning queen gets the upper hand as the narrative unfolds.
From the photographs of the Met’s playfully modernist sets and jeweled costumes, we can imagine that the production would have appealed to Drew-Bear. In the painting, Galli’s braided hair and headdress recall those of the Queen in Le Coq d’Or. Drew-Bear’s complex, multi-figure composition unfolds around the figure of Galli, with strange green creatures, flying angels, a floating clown’s head, a man with a blowpipe, a crouching blue monkey, and other dancing couples and musicians.