Set Designer for Orpheus and Eurydice
a dialog over Zoom, Orpheus and Eurydice’s set designer, Carey
Wong, sat down with Seattle Opera to debate how he received began in opera, his
imaginative and prescient for the Orpheus units, and what excites him about the way forward for theater.
Carey Wong has labored for over 45 years as a stage designer and humanities administrator in the USA, Canada, and overseas. He has designed units and/or costumes for over 300 productions of operas, performs, musicals, and ballets, in addition to artwork installations and themed environments. At present a contract designer and theater advisor primarily based in Gig Harbor, Washington, he started his profession as Common Manufacturing Manger and Resident Designer of Portland Opera for eight seasons. This was adopted by two seasons as Inventive Administrator and Resident Designer at Opera Memphis. Whereas at Portland Opera, Mr. Wong designed units and costumes for 12 new productions together with the American premiere of Ernst Krenek’s Lifetime of Orestes (in an English translation by the composer commissioned for the premiere), the world premiere of Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, and a uncommon staging of Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz. Three of his Portland productions had been shared by Seattle Opera.
Seattle Opera: How did you get entangled in designing units for theater? And what attracted you to opera, particularly?
Carey Wong: That is a great query. I initially went to varsity to be a mathematician, and I appreciated the puzzle-solving high quality of that. However I spotted early on that I most likely wasn’t going to be an ideal mathematician, so I began experimenting with different lessons—dabbling in psychology, English literature, and movie. I ended up changing into very thinking about historic recreations of performs. My senior thesis in faculty was to reconstruct a historic masque by [17th-century playwright] Ben Jonson, and that received me thinking about stage design.
I received into opera after I left faculty, when Portland Opera employed me to design a present for them. We did not have some huge cash on the time, however we had nice aspirations and nice vitality. And our efficiency venue was Keller Auditorium, which is an enormous stage. I take into account that my graduate faculty: I realized by doing, and it was an effective way to hone my craft and determine allocate sources and what the sensible requirements are.
The beauty of opera is that the addition of music actually permits you, as a designer, to create far more expansive, conceptual visions than you may be capable to create for spoken theater. Theater might be very reality-based—a variety of the time, you’re creating a up to date front room, or a gasoline station, or no matter. However in opera, you are usually coping with bigger visible gestures and bigger prospects, and even units that operate on the extent of metaphor. That is the thrilling factor about working in opera: you possibly can have interaction the visible senses not solely in a richer and extra enveloping approach, but in addition in an mental and conceptual approach.
I feel opera audiences are sometimes fairly to see what the manufacturing or the mise en scène goes to be for a specific manufacturing. And Orpheus and Eurydice is such a compelling piece that provides a variety of totally different visible prospects that it is a great likelihood to play with an surroundings and create one thing novel.
Seattle Opera: Sure, let’s discuss extra about some specifics of the set design for Orpheus and Eurydice. What had been your elementary concepts for a way the present ought to look?
Carey Wong: In a chunk like Orpheus, it was very clear from the start that projections would play a big function within the visible storytelling. So it was my job to create an surroundings that not solely had an fascinating form to it, however could be a floor on which the projections may have a lifetime of their very own. And since Chía [Patiño], the stage director, was actually within the thought of the Fates spinning the thread of life—making a thread that’s spun, measured, and reduce—we discovered a fabric that appears like a spider internet that covers all the surfaces of the set. It provides the set the sensation that it’s being enveloped by the threads of time. That world of woven and ripped and shredded and tangled threads is an apt visible metaphor for the present, wherein Eurydice’s life has been reduce brief.
|The “threads of time” are woven over the whole floor of the set. Credit score: Sunny Martini|
Seattle Opera: May you inform me about how your imaginative and prescient for the units morphed over time? I’ve heard you point out that it seems to be fairly totally different now than it did once you first generated concepts.
Carey Wong: One picture that Chía [Patiño] had early on was of this circle of sunshine within the midst of darkness—like a beacon. Initially, I had created a few totally different units that had a big, round opening behind the stage. However we realized that though the circle of sunshine was a focus that wanted to be integrated within the design, it shouldn’t be so huge that it overwhelmed the visible image. So we ended up making a a lot smaller round opening with a bigger drop area the place projections may happen.
Moreover, I all the time needed to have a barely skewed set, to indicate that Eurydice’s dying threw the world out of stability, and so I used to be making an attempt to play with one thing that was one way or the other tilted or barely askew. That was considerably obvious within the first designs, however not as emphatically obvious as within the ultimate design, the place the world could be very askew. We created a really giant, tipped wall—a wall that just about seems to be like it may fall on the viewers—with three very tall openings and compelled perspective.
I feel this juxtaposition of a really small, round opening that reveals itself in opposition to this huge, looming wall tilted at an excessive angle creates a dramatic visible pressure that may assist serve the present very well.
|The tilted partitions of the set cling over the performers on stage.
Credit score: Philip
Seattle Opera: Completely. [Stage director] Chía [Patiño] clearly has a robust imaginative and prescient for this present, and she or he’s beginning with a narrative that’s fairly previous and has been tailored time and time once more. How do set designs and the opposite visible parts of an opera like this assist to reinterpret an previous story and make it contemporary for brand new audiences?
Carey Wong: I feel our manufacturing seems to be very up to date—it would not appear to be a Baroque opera or something that has remnants of Sixteenth-, Seventeenth-, or 18th-century surroundings or costumes in it. And I don’t wish to give something away, however I feel Chía’s interpretation of the story could be very up to date as a result of it questions the character and diploma of Orpheus’s love of Eurydice. I feel that places the connection in a extra fashionable gentle.
Seattle Opera: I might love to listen to extra about what it is like designing units for such a small, intimate area as Tagney Jones Corridor. I am considering of how dramatic it may look to have tilted structure when the viewers is actually proper there, with the units perhaps even trying like they’ll fall proper on them.
Carey Wong: One of many main challenges has been that the corridor is a completed area, so we will’t drill holes into the partitions or insert bolts to carry issues up. Because of this, I feel the crew who constructed the set have needed to be pretty intelligent and nimble about how they’ve chosen to construct the surroundings. For instance, the tilted wall that we’ve been speaking about—the one that appears like it may fall on the viewers—it is truly self-supporting. We initially thought that we must droop it from the grid, however then [Scenic Studios Manager] Michael Moore was ready to determine a method to weight it from the bottom, so it would not have to have overhead assist.
|The Seattle Opera set crew installs the tilted wall in Tagney Jones Corridor. Credit score: Arryn Davis.|
One other problem was that we would have liked to verify the orchestra had sufficient room to be socially distanced, in response to COVID protocols. That meant they couldn’t simply be organized as a small orchestra could be in any other case, had COVID not existed. So it was a matter of discovering the correct configuration to get everyone snug, whereas additionally leaving room for dancers and singers and everyone to carry out.
It has been enjoyable, working on this area. It is that entire factor about puzzle fixing: it is like a mathematical downside, besides it is a visible problem to resolve.
|The association of the orchestra to the aspect of the stage. Credit score: Philip Newton.|
Seattle Opera: I’ve one final query on Orpheus and Eurydice: Do you’ve a favourite element within the set that you really want audiences to maintain a watch out for, as they’re watching this manufacturing?
Carey Wong: I might say this: that small, round opening that is within the set has a few totally different supposed seems to be to it, and I am hoping these can be considerably stunning for the viewers. We do not have the flexibility to fly units out and in of this small venue, so it is laborious to vary surroundings—however we have provide you with a few issues that I feel will alter what folks see within the opening.
|The round opening behind the stage glows with the sunshine of S. Katy Tucker’s projections. Credit score: Philip Newton.|
Seattle Opera: I’d prefer to zoom out now and discuss a bit bit extra about your background. What are some frequent misconceptions that audiences may need about designing units for theater?
Carey Wong: That is a great query. I feel that, a variety of occasions, folks assume that set designers are individuals who simply provide you with fairly footage or fascinating concepts, and every little thing is simply created from a easy sketch or a easy thought, and, poof, it is all magic. The factor I feel folks do not realize is that there’s quite a lot of precision and work concerned in what we do, as scenic designers and costume designers and lighting designers.
As a set designer, for example, I’ve to provide you with an thought. Then, I normally must construct a mannequin for it, at scale. (A half-inch scale is what I take advantage of.) After which I’ve to do architectural drawings of each piece of surroundings, from all sides or from totally different views. These drawings go to the scene store and so they take a look at it and value it out. Most of the time, surroundings needs to be edited down as a result of the sources which are obtainable for the challenge do not equal what the designer has in thoughts, and there is a variety of backwards and forwards to that course of that I feel lots of people aren’t conscious of.
And a variety of occasions, as a designer, you possibly can delete extraneous particulars that may embellish the story or inform the story a bit higher or be prettier or be extra dramatically compelling, however you are still going to have the ability to keep a glance and an thought, an idea and a imaginative and prescient that may work for the storytelling.
|Carey Wong’s scale mannequin for the Orpheus units. Credit score: Arryn Davis.|
Seattle Opera: What excites you about the way forward for theater, and what scares you about the way forward for theater?
Carey Wong: The pandemic has made it actually powerful for dwell performing arts, and but, it has spawned all types of hybrid types of sharing performances nearly with audiences. One factor that I get very involved about is simply the truth that I might hate to see dwell performances go away utterly. I might hate to see that all of us naturally gravitate in the direction of screens and digital depictions of theater items, as a result of I feel there’s nothing like a dwell efficiency, the place you’re in the identical room with people who find themselves truly doing one thing in actual time. Watching an opera dwell is watching magic occur. It is being accomplished earlier than you with none methods or mirrors or re-editing or inexperienced screening, and I feel that form of factor is basically necessary for us, as a civilization.
The good factor, although, is the truth that expertise is ready to do lots to maneuver theater ahead as an artwork kind. Lighting expertise, projection expertise, holograms, all of that—these are nice instruments that allow designers to have a richer palette with which to inform a narrative visually.
I feel we’ll see sorts of theater growing that may actually astound us sooner or later. I am very excited by that.