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Memorial Tribute
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de Nobili La Traviata

A costume sketch by Lila De Nobili for the 1955 production of La Traviata for the La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy. This sketch was for the second-act costume worn by Maria Callas as Violetta Valery.
2006 Award Winner Lila De Nobili

Lila de NobiliLila De Nobili was born in Lugano, an Italian-speaking city in southeast Switzerland bordering Italy, on Sept. 3, 1916. Her father was descended from an old Italian family, and her mother was of Jewish-Hungarian origin. She grew up in a cosmopolitan atmosphere, with the European cultural values of Vienna and Budapest well in sight. She was most likely introduced to the world of drawing at an early age through her uncle, the painter Marcel Vertès. In the 1930s, she attended the studio of Ferruccio Ferrazzi at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome.

Leaving Rome just after it was bombed in 1943 and eventually settling in Paris, she was soon asked by the leading magazines, including Vogue, to illustrate the haute couture collections. These were the years of Bérard, Cocteau and Dior, but it was immediately apparent to all who saw her work that it bore the stamp of a unique and rare talent.

De Nobili's work in the theatre began quite fortuitously through her childhood friend, the actress Françoise Lugagne, who was the wife of the director Raymond Rouleau. It was from her long, exceptionally fruitful collaboration with Rouleau that some of the most astonishing European designs of the time emerged, including Angel Pavement (1947), Le voleur d'enfants (1948), A Streetcar Named Desire (1949), La Petite Lili (1951), Anna Karenine (1951), Gigi (1951), Cyrano de Bergerac (1953), The Country Girl (1954), The Crucible (1954), La Plume de Ma Tante (1958), L'Arlésienne (1958), Carmen (1959) and The Aspern Papers (1961).

In 1954, De Nobili worked with the legendary Luchino Visconti on Mario and the Magician, a ballet based on the short story by Thomas Mann. They next worked together in 1955 at La Scala on Visconti's production of La Traviata with Maria Callas as Violetta. It was after a performance at La Scala that De Nobili first met Yannis Tsarouchis, the important 20th-century Greek painter. He later claimed he was astonished by the sight of this woman, who painted her sets by herself with such simplicity and success. Their meeting would grow into a lifelong friendship.

Throughout the late 1950s and early '60s, De Nobili worked continuously in theatre, opera, ballet and film, including on such works as Sable a ballet (1956), Peter Hall's Cymbeline (1957), Franco Zeffirelli's Mignon (1957), Orphée (1958), Hall's Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream (1958), Ondine (1959), Ruy Blas (1960), Gian Carlo Menotti's La Bohème (1960), Falstaff (1961), Zeffirelli's Aida (1962), Zeffirelli's Rigoletto (1963), Le roi gourmet (1964), Love for Love (1965), Seule dans le noir (1966), costumes for Sleeping Beauty (1968) and sets for Manon Lescaut (1973).

With the exception of that final credit, De Nobili declined all offers to work in the theatre in the 1970s. She retired into Parisian reclusion with her cats and died on Feb. 19, 2002, at the age of 86.