The Lyric Opera looks to Renaissance paintings for fresh insight on Verdi.
WHEN Oct 27–Nov 23
WHERE Lyric Opera, 20 N Wacker Dr (312-332-2244, lyricopera.org)
Right now, 200 semis are hauling U2’s gigantic space-spider stage set. The rock stars’ Soldier Field ego pit stop September 12 and 13 is the epitome of modern musical theatricality. In the meantime, a modest train of trailers is shipping backdrops from a specialty construction shop in San Diego for a more aged sort of musical theater—the Lyric Opera’s production of Ernani. Though the opera house staged Verdi’s lesser-known 1844 dramma lirico during the work’s trendy revival in the 1980s, this is an all-new production, brainstormed by the Lyric’s production design director, Scott Marr.
“When I first got the assignment, I went to the Art Institute and sat in front of El Greco’s Assumption of the Virgin,” says Marr. “I pulled references from that—feeling, color.” The Renaissance painting originates from 16th-century Spain, the precise setting for Verdi’s tale of bandits, marriage and suicide. Marr found inspiration for costumes in other period oils—a wedding dress in a portrait of Eleanor del Toledo, Ernani’s monk disguise in El Greco’s depiction of Saint Bernardino. Many of the garments are being produced in a seemingly unglamorous locale: Wisconsin. Seamstress Kitty Schweitzer, an old friend of Marr’s, previously built outfits for Shrek the Musical in her small Racine-based shop.
The brush-and-canvas influence, as well an homage to tradition, doesn’t stop with the threads. “My style is very painterly. I am old fashioned in that way,” Marr explains. “A lot of scenery used to be painted when Verdi wrote this piece, and especially in the 16th century. I wanted it to have that feeling.” While the set is fairly straightforward—primarily sliding panels and dropped borders—the sensuous detail is anything but.
Moorish ornamentation covers every surface; ornate patterns overlap and layer. Marr built rose windows in the bottoms of custom chandeliers to dapple kaleidoscopic tones on the floor, a parquet star surrounded by colored marble tile. Real marble? “No, faux,” Marr says. “That would weigh a ton! The Lyric would kill me. Not to mention the cost.” This is theater, after all. Leave the marble to Bono’s bathroom.
Check out the other sections in our 2009 Fall Preview: