What takes place behind the curtain is just as important (and thrilling) as the stage performance itself. For Opera Atelier‘s resident set designer Gerard Gauci, he will bring Armide’s set to life come opening night. This will Thursday will mark the 30th season for OA, and having been with the company since its inception, I can only imagine the amount of effort invested to create, once again, another magical world for the artists participating.
Over the years he has designed sets for all of Opera Atelier’s repertoire including Alicna, Orfeo, The Coronation of Poppea, Persée, Medée, Iphigénie en Tauride, Idomeneo, The Marriage of Figaro, La Clemenza di Tito, Don Giovanni, Armide and Der Freischütz (The Marksman) and I had the privilege to ask the award winning set designer a few questions as to how he pulls it all off.
MC: What process do you go through when selecting costumes for all of the characters?GG: Though written in France in the 17th century the story of this opera takes place in the Middle East during the First Crusade. When I created the designs for Armide I noted that at the time the composer Lully and his librettist Phillipe Quinault were penning their opera in France, scribes and artists in Persia were illuminating manuscripts with the glittering, jewel-toned miniatures that are among the high points of artistic achievement in the Islamic world. I looked to these miniatures for my inspiration and created sets that incorporated the brilliant colours, stylized perspective and intricate patterns that characterise these exquisite works of art. Calligraphy forms an important element in Persian art so I had parts of the French libretto translated into Persian and introduced calligraphic panels into the scenery thereby setting stage as a page from a manuscript come to life.
MC: Do you feel the costumes play a huge part in preparing the artists for their roles?
GG: The design process usually begins 18 to 24 months before opening night. Lengthy discussions are held with the director, lighting designer and production manager in which matters of style, concept and budget are carefully worked through. Rough designs are then presented for approval, a model of the stage is made and final renderings are completed. These renderings are delivered to the carpenters and painters who often work for months realizing the designs. The finished set must be ready for installation on stage about ten days before the show opens.
MC: You will be taking these costumes to France for the OA’s anticipated tour – please share how you plan to fulfill such an important job.
GG: The day before opening night is usually very quiet. The show will have been installed, the rehearsals will be completed and the singers and dancers will be resting. I often use this day to clear up any small repairs of props and scenery. While most often everything is ready by opening night I have on occasion been seen in a suit and tie hours before the curtain rises, gold leaf in one hand and a brush in the other making sure every tiny detail is perfect for the show that is about to begin.
Images courtesy of Gerard Gauci