The distinguished theatre designer Rouben Ter-Arutunian began his creative career as a student of concert piano and art in Berlin, Vienna and Paris—worlds away from Tiflis, Russia, where he was born on July 24, 1920. His first costumes were for the Berlin State Opera Ballet in 1941. In 1951, Rouben moved to the U.S. and became a citizen in 1957.
He had his first Broadway credit the same year, as production designer on George Abbott's 1957 hit New Girl in Town,
starring Gwen Verdon. His 20 Broadway credits include production design for Redhead
(1959), scenic design for Donnybrook!
(1961), production design for The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
(1964), production design for Ivanov
(1966) and scenic design for what would be his last Broadway production, Goodbye Fidel
, in 1980.
Ter-Arutunian was nominated for five Tony Awards: scenic design of Advise and Consent
(1961), scenic design for A Passage to India
(1962), production design for Arturo Ui
(1964) and scenic design for Goodtime Charley
(1975). But it was Redhead
, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Gwen Verdon, that won Ter-Arutunian the 1959 Tony Award for best costume design.
His extensive design credits also include ballet and opera in the U.S. and around the world. He worked with many different choreographers and is especially well-known for his collaborations with George Balanchine on such ballets as Harlequinade, Vienna Waltzes
and The Nutcracker.
Ter-Arutunian's film credits include The Loved One
(1965) and Such Good Friends
(1971), and his TV credits include The Taming of the Shrew
(1956), The Tempest
(1960), I Wish You Love: An Evening with Marlene Dietrich
(1973) and The CBS Festival of Lively Arts for Young People
(1974). He won an Emmy for his art direction of a 1957 TV production of Twelfth Night.
He also served as the staff designer for the three major television networks and designed many variety shows and specials.
In 1997, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts held an exhibition of his work, titled Rouben Ter-Arutunian: A Working Collection
. This special exhibit showcased his pioneering work in television design in the 1950s and in open-air and televised opera, as well as his better-known designs for Broadway and the ballet stage. Among the renderings and models selected for the show were the verdant forest that transforms into an art nouveau ballroom in George Balanchine's Vienna Waltzes
and the vivid, magical settings for the same choreographer's The Nutcracker
. This legendary production of the Tchaikovsky ballet, featuring Ter-Arutunian's glorious production design, was filmed in 1993, just a year after Ter-Arutunian died.