The Annapolis Opera offered up a creative challenge: They tasked us with building the stage set for their production of The Barber of Seville, Gioachino Rossini’s opera buffo best known for its eponymous aria sung by the barber Figaro. We worked with the production’s scenic designer, April Joy Vester, who had a vision of a pastel hued villa, complete with architectural flourishes.
But that wasn’t all. The set elements would need to be repurposed several months later for the company’s production of Carmen–Bizet’s tragic romance about the independent Spanish heroine who dies at the hands of a jealous would-be suitor. The opera is set in the south of Spain, with action at a seedy inn and in the mountains. The scenic design, by Jefferson Ridenour, would have a dark and dramatic color palette.
Fortunately, both operas are set in Spain, so some architectural motifs could be carried from one production to the next. But the challenge remained: We had to turn a nobleman’s mansion into a dingy, smoke-filled inn.
Luan and cardboard shingles painted to resemble terra cotta tile roof
Simply changing the color palettes would not be enough to convey the dramatic shift from the light farce of Barber to the tragedy of Carmen. The two designers would need to alter the functioning of the set pieces themselves.
Color palette for tavern starts with base colors, mixed
The pristine, well-kept manor would need to morph into the humble inn and rocky crags where much of Carmen takes place.
Cardboard and wood cut and painted to resemble brick
We would need to build set pieces sturdy enough for the action on stage but light enough to move around and repurpose like a jigsaw puzzle.
Tower from 'Barber of Seville' repurposed for 'Carmen'
To stay within the budget of this small opera company, we would need to be creative, rebuilding some pieces and dramatically re-surfacing and repainting the entire structure.
Exterior view of tavern assembled scenic paint
We turned elegant colonnade archways from Barber inside out, adding swinging tavern doors and a distressed fascia of reclaimed wood to establish the look of a dingy, timeworn inn.
Tower with added posters of bullfighting applied
The airy, pastel tower seen in Barber was resurfaced and aged for Carmen. We created faux brick and stone cladding by hand-carving lightweight foam to transform set pieces from festive to foreboding.
Faux brick and terracotta
We repainted the slate roof from the Barber set with a trompe l’oeil faux finish to resemble curved terra-cotta tiles. We had originally painted and glazed individual pieces of corrugated cardboard to look like slate shingles; the finished roof tiles were a range grey shades, reflecting the sheen and depth of slate’s natural variation.
Brick (wood and cardboard) archway and CNC router cut wooden gates
The trompe l’oeil look of the rounded terra-cotta tiles meant starting with a more matte, flat finish. The cardboard was not replaced, just repainted.
Foam and tyvek rock formations with scenic paint applied
With the help of carved foam and the polyethylene material Tyvek (manipulated by wrinkling and melting), we refashioned Barber’s balcony staircase and balustrade into a rocky outcropping for Carmen.
Carmen dress rehearsal
The client was amazed by our redeployment of the set pieces, as well as the shift from light to dark, comic to tragic. So complete was the transformation, season ticket-holders did not recognize the re-purposed set pieces from the previous season.