Notes on the ‘Nabucco’ Scenic Design from Director Thaddeus Strassberger

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.

Scenic artist Paolino Libralato works on the Nabucco set (Photo: Thaddeus Strassberger)

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.

(Photo: Thaddeus Strassberger)

(Photo: Thaddeus Strassberger)

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.

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2 Responses to Notes on the ‘Nabucco’ Scenic Design from Director Thaddeus Strassberger

  1. Paula Correia says:

    As an Opera League volunteer i was very lucky to be at the final dress rehearsal of NABUCCO with 500 school children. Was totally awed by the magnificence and majesty of the beautiful and elegant sets. It’s hard to believe that the same young set designer is also Nabucco’s director–Thaddeus Strassberger whom I had the privilege to drive to and from LAX a few months ago and whom I met again at the Cast Dinner the day before the dress rehearsal. A very nice man and über-talented artist.

  2. Fred Kramer says:

    My wife and I will attend a performance of Nabucco on Nov. 2. We are looking forward to this opera experience. WE both loved Placido Domingo in a PBS broadcast as he conducted – while “Il Volo” sang.

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