To help celebrate Derek Jarman (1942-1994) being one of the three successful nominations to receive an Islington People’s Plaque, we thought it fitting to discuss his link with Sadler’s Wells.
On 21 August 1968 Sadler's Wells Opera Company (SWOC) premiered Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the first performance in their new home at the Coliseum in London's West End. The company moved from being based at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, on Rosebery Avenue, Islington to the Coliseum which had a much larger capacity and gave it greater autonomy.
Jarman had, earlier that year, successfully designed the sets and costumes for Frederick Ashton’s Royal Ballet production of Jazz Calendar at Covent Garden, which starred Rudolf Nureyev and Antoinette Sibley, and was greatly applauded. Following that success, Jarman was asked to design the set and costumes for Don Giovanni by its director, John Gielgud.
The 26 year-old artist’s designs – along with the opera production as a whole – were not as favourably received as Jazz Calendar. The geometric sets were described as “sparse, stark and abstract” and the costumes “hotch-potch” by the Illustrated London News (31/08/1968). Although Jarman did not design for opera or ballet again, the designs have aged well, and he is now considered ahead of his time with, not just his designs, but also his art and film work.