- Resident Artists
Suppose you had to design an opera based on a stapler. Could you do it? Sue Bonde could. Sue’s a costume designer for Portland Opera. She’s part of the design team that includes the set designer, the lighting director, the prop supervisor and several others whose work visualizes the ideas of the stage director.
Also visiting our class was scenic designer Curt Enderle and general director Christopher Mattaliano, here in his capacity as opera director. Curt, a Drammy award winner, also has extensive experience bringing opera to life. Curt and Sue worked closely together during Portland Opera’s recent production of Galileo Galilei. They spent two hours giving us a general overview of how they combine a director’s ideas with their own creativity, experience, and brilliance to create a dazzling visual production.
Basically, the collaboration starts with an initial meeting with the opera director. The director’s concept can be specific (“I want the set to look like this painting”) or vague (“I see gold & orange & heat & tension.”) What’s crucial is that the design team is inspired by this initial meeting. They then feverishly begin doing research, developing ideas, making sketches, shopping for fabrics, solving problems, and in Curt’s case, creating a three dimensional model, all in scale. Sue and Curt brought examples of their drawings, models, and final costumes for Galileo Galilei. Each one was a masterful work of art in itself. We students oohed and aahed appreciatively.
This aspect of pre-production comprises thousands of details and decisions. Did you know that most of the work building the actual set is done by an independent scene shop? And if the original designs can’t be built within the budget, it’s time to reevaluate, prioritize, and figure out how it can. Flexibility and creative problem solving are key.
When it’s finally time for the design team to meet with the singers during the first day of rehearsal, the excitement and energy in the room is like the first day of school. Now it’s the design team’s opportunity to introduce the singers to the world they’ve been immersed in for the previous year. The singers then consider how they can incorporate the set design, costumes, lighting, and props into their musical choices. Both Sue and Curt have deep admiration and respect for the performers. As Sue says, “I want to help them SING in their costumes.”
What does the design team need most during their long hours of hard work? “Stamina,” says Chris. Curt adds, “and a good bladder.”
Eventually, the design team’s work nears a close as they make last-minute changes during rehearsals. Says Chris, “I’m still amazed this comes together, with so much to coordinate. It’s astounding.” But after getting a glimpse into the artistic brilliance, enthusiasm, experience, attention to detail, and professionalism of the design team, maybe it’s not so difficult to imagine after all.