A formative part of my training as an opera director and designer was spent at the Accademia Teatro alla Scala. This “temple of opera”—as both a building and a company of artists—has existed largely unchanged since 1776 and has produced hundreds of world premieres, including many of Verdi’s operas.
Though musical and visual taste have changed over the centuries, there is a certain level of craftsmanship that is always present onstage there. To capture the essence of Verdi’s world of the 1840s for this production, the scenery that I designed for this production needed to be painted in a very specific style.
One of the scenic artists I chose for the task, Paolino Libralato, studied for many years under the same person whom I had the honour of training under at La Scala, so already there was an aesthetic connection to our training and development. This master teacher, Angelo Sala, of course had studied with the chief scenic painter of the theater in the 1960s who had studied under his predecessor, and so on, etc. all the way back of course to Verdi’s time. This artisanal chain of knowledge allows for a stylistic continuity to be passed down from generation to generation. My fear is that some of this artisanal talent will be lost if it is not given enough opportunities to be practiced and honed, so I’m eager to present this art form to an audience who may have never seen anything like it before.
Actual visual references to ancient Babylon were scarce in the first part of the 19th century as excavations had only just begun. The scenic artists of the time relied on a hybrid of ancient Greek, Middle Eastern and even Egyptian imagery to create an imaginary and fantastical scenic atmosphere, rather than one rooted in documentary-like historical accuracy. In keeping with that spirit, there are a number of historical anachronisms woven into both the scenic and costume design which, together with the overall framing of the original theater, conspire to create an atmosphere which nourishes the underlying heartbeat of the musical drama.
Thaddeus Strassberger is an opera director and scenic designer. He made his LA Opera debut in 2012 with Verdi’s I due Foscari.
For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.