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May 1, 2005
Los Angeles Opera
www.losangelesopera.com
Gottfried Helnwein
Note from Der Rosenkavalier Production Designer Gottfried Helnwein
Marie Antoinette, for example, was obsessed with the idea of pretending to be a simple innocent peasant girl. Her husband built her an entire life-sized fantasy farmhouse and mill with sheep, shepherds and all - and an idealistic landscape shaped around it. Dressed in theatrical shepherdess attire, she could now play "innocent country folk" with her girlfriends.
posted on 5/16/2005
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
2005
When I first started designing for the stage, with Shakespeare's Macbeth in 1988, I found it exciting and challenging, very different from painting in the studio which can be quite a lonely experience. In the theater the entire stage becomes the canvas, only it is three-dimensional, it moves and one is surrounded by music and voices.
The original idea of opera was to bring all the arts together, but many opera houses worldwide have neglected the visual aspect. Opera is only truly successful if all the elements connect in the same spirit. Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, in particular, is a great work, but every production-that I have seen at least-looks very much the same to me.
The spirit and the humor of this romantic comedy are rarely captured visually. Der Rosenkavalier is set at the end of Baroque, the Rococo, which was a time when everything was theater, at least for the upper-classes. The fashions of the time were entirely over the top - people wearing masks, playing roles and staging themes. But for many it was also a time of social injustice, exploitation and intolerance.
Marie Antoinette, for example, was obsessed with the idea of pretending to be a simple innocent peasant girl. Her husband built her an entire life-sized fantasy farmhouse and mill with sheep, shepherds and all - and an idealistic landscape shaped around it. Dressed in theatrical shepherdess attire, she could now play "innocent country folk" with her girlfriends.
Everyday life was staged, completely dedicated to one thing: aesthetics. The presence of Eros (love) and death was evident in everything. Visually, I wanted to capture the spirit of the period, and yet also reflect the present era in which the opera is re-created.
All the great paintings of historic themes were depicted in the style of the times when the artists painted them. So I think it is important that you can see that this is a production from the 21st century - and that it takes place in Los Angeles, a city which I find fascinating for many reasons. The influence of film culture cannot be overestimated and I feel there is a strong commonality between Hollywood and the Rococo.
We live in an age where everything is colorful and fast, with people constantly being bombarded with an overwhelming amount of images, sensations and information. It is not the purpose of the artist to compete with this. In my work, I find that by reducing the visual means, the message gets stronger.
In the early 80's I tried to paint "monochromatically," meaning to limit my paintings to one color only, mainly blue. To my surprise, I found that there is a whole universe of different blues and within this limited palette you can be more subtle and intense and actually quite "colorful." Color is very powerful; it has a deep impact on one's subconscious, one's mood and emotions. And so, in this production, I have decided to mirror onstage what I do with my paintings.
A palette of three main colors dominated the Rococo-(light/dark) blues, yellows (gold) and reds (pink)-and my designs for Der Rosenkavalier reflect that. For the first act, everything is blue, hundreds of tones and shades of blue. It is like morning, a beginning full of expectation. In the second act, in the newly-rich man's palace when the two lovers meet, all is gold and yellow. For the third act, the conclusive explosion, I have chosen red, a color of love, hate and revolution.
There are almost 200 costumes, for in many cases we needed three otherwise identical costumes in blue, yellow and red. The makeup must also be changed with each act. Light and video are major elements; the color you will see is not the color of the wall but the color of the light. Putting it all together, however, was much more difficult than I'd imagined, and became an exciting challenge.
My philosophy when I approach any project is that it must pass a certain test: All art, no matter how sophisticated, avant-garde or advanced, must still have the ability to touch and move a human being, no matter how naive and uneducated in art. Art must excite, amaze or shock, startle or inspire. If it is only intellectual, if one has to have a degree in art history to understand it, then it fails.
This project has also given me the opportunity to work with three other Austrian artists: director Maximilian Schell, also a great actor as well as a connoisseur and collector of art; bass Kurt Rydl, one of the great opera singers of our times; and celebrated choreographer Hans Kresnik. Kresnik's work is known for being political and brutal, but also very beautiful, elements I find in my own art as well.
We are all deeply rooted in the same culture and tradition, and there is a basic understanding for that historical Vienna and its morbid charm in which the opera takes place.
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
2005, with Maximilian Schell, Los Angeles Opera
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
2005
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
2005




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