Designing the Set

by Junting Meng

I saw the production of Nabucco last Friday evening and I just have to put it out there that it completely blew my mind. From the immensely emotional characters to the rich, dynamic orchestra, Opera Philadelphia certainly delivered us all a treat. I’ll be quite honest; Nabucco was the first opera that I experienced. Nevertheless, it delivered spectacularly and I definitely foresee more operas in my near future. Now, to the actual point of this blog post.

While the performers and the accompanying music garnered the majority of attention last Friday, I would like to direct our focus to another aspect of Nabucco and opera as a whole: set design. Even though I realize that this is a music course and hence our attention should be mainly devoted to music, I firmly believe that set design significantly contributes to the power and influence of opera and thus we should glance over some of its interesting and important characteristics.

But first, take a look at this.

Is that not crazy? Insane? Awesome?! When I first looked through the pictures, I could not believe my eyes. From this illustration we can clearly see that set design holds a vital importance in opera. I’m sure we can all agree that transposing this production to an opera house would radiate a completely different take to the audience. In this way, set design holds a striking similarity to the performers and orchestra of an opera. Depending on who performs which characters, depending on which types of instruments are present in the orchestra, depending on how the set is constructed, the actual dynamics of the opera changes significantly.

Now take a look at this short video clip of Nabucco’s set design.

I realize that this is the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ production of Nabucco but I was quite shocked to see that a lot of the art and props in the video were exactly the same ones used in Opera Philadelphia’s production. With regards, in particular, to Nabucco’s set design, I found it to be very ornate and grand. The set design gives an impression of immense scale and space. For example, I remember that the pillars took up a great deal of the background view and that the stage was painted in such a fashion as to project openness and space. Because of how Nabucco’s set design was planned, I felt that the performers’ and the orchestra’s projection was greatly enhanced. Set design definitely plays a huge part in the overall construction and implementation of an opera. It certainly should not be overlooked.