Tuesday, February 12 2013
We Get Questions--We Give AnswersWhat does that mean?
As Technical Services Manager, eventually the tough questions end up on my desk. Not that I'm complaining, because hard questions are delightful. I learn more from figuring out the answer to most people's inquiries than any other avenue of research, reading or study. Answering other people is an excellent way to get an education in your own field.
But it goes both ways--I often get to learn something about an entirely unrelated field, and then I'm smitten. Chasing down a new idea or the details of something complex and interesting is like catnip for someone with my particular kind of brain--I display some characteristics of nerd-ism that popular culture identifies with ASD or Asperger's, but I'm pretty certain that the only valid description of the way I am is 'Differently-Brained'.
Today I got a new question, and it's made for a happy brain morning. After 20 years of being the answer guy, brand-new questions are rare and precious, like orchids or honest politicians, and equally to be cherished. It came from an unusual source . . .
NAME: Christina H-----
COUNTRY: United Kingdom
MESSAGE: Dear Sir/Madam,
My name is Christina H----- and I am currently working as an Assistant Stage Manager on a production of 'Cosi fan Tutte' with English Touring Opera. I was hoping you could help clarify my research into a prop for the show.
I have been asked to source a wine bottle from the late 18th century (1780 to 1800) and to make a replica label for the wine bottle. However I have been unable to find any sort of reference for this. My research has shown that the wine bottles themselves weren't standardised until the late 19th century and that most were distinguished by a seal on the glass. In this case, did wine bottle labels exist in the late 18th century and if so, do you know where I might find a reference for such an item?
I would really appreciate you taking the time to help me with this matter. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.
Well, how 'bout that.
I like opera, enjoy Mozart (to me his music always sounds simultaneously as free and light as birds and as mechanical and regular as clockwork), and I'm familiar with the music of Cosi fan Tutte, but I've never bothered to learn the story--librettos and stage settings are just there to support the lovely music. In fact, the story behind most operas is patently ridiculous, with magic flutes and gold digging river-maidens galore. So I had to learn the story and setting and when I finally got past that distraction, I dug into my library to find out more about period bottles. Glorious!
Here's the answer I came up with:
The modern wine bottle is a product of the Industrial revolution in England. Only coal furnaces are hot enough (815+C) to melt sand into glass, and until large-scale coal use became standard, bottles were more used as temporary storage vessels: a householder or member of the gentry would purchase barrels of wine and bottle them at need--indeed, it was technically illegal to sell wine by the bottle in England until 1860.
As such, there were very few bottle labels produced. Most people would have written on the outside of the bottle in white paint to identify the wine, and relied on the idiosyncrasies of local bottle design to give them at-a-glance identification--hock bottles, bocksbuetel, Bordeaux, Burgundy et al were all made in characteristic shapes.
The milieu your production is set in would determine what would represent an authentic bottle. If it is faithful to the original Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti's setting (is the bottle for the Albanians 'poison' scene?) then perhaps raffia covered bottles (technically called fisachi), such as are seen on a modern Chianti bottle would represent well.
Set in other places a simple, older style of bottle might serve best. By the mid-eighteenth century glassmakers had recognised the need to 'bin' or stack wine bottles on their side, and switched from more bulbous bottle shapes to cylinders that would stack more easily. The only caveat would be to choose a bottle that has a hand-made look, rather than the starkly uniform character of mass-produced modern bottles.
And, in no case should the bottle have a label--terribly inauthentic, that.
I hope this helps--good luck with your production.
Technical Services Manager
See? Some days this is a cool job, and other days it's really super cool.
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