While a singer is charged with interpreting music in a
understand the world in which the opera’s story will be
way that is appropriate to the character and the style
told. He doesn’t like to distract his audiences with excess
of the piece, it is up to the director, designers, and
material purely for the sake of spectacle; everything
choreographers to conceptualize the world they inhabit
onstage is designed holistically to serve a function in
and create a visual representation of it. Sometimes that
the opera, down to the subtlest detail.
may mean reinterpreting operas that have been staged innumerable times—some of which are centuries old.
Or not so subtle, as is the case with the giant hot pink piano in The Barber of Seville—truly operatic in size, but
That has been the case with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
also functional as a desk in Act I and a gondola during
by Els Comediants—a Barcelona-based creative team
Rosina’s Act II aria. The oversized instrument was a
founded by Joan Font in 1971. Although Els Comediants
playground for the singers, and their ensuing antics
began as a theater group, their creative energy has been
incited the audience to break out into real laughter—not
infused into projects of various scales, ranging from
the muffled variety one typically hears at the opera.
…EVERY DESIGN ELEMENT ON S TA G E M U S T S E R V E A P U R P O S E street festivals to the 1992 Olympic Games. In 2011, Els
This type of functionality is a signature of Guillén’s style,
Comediants charmed audiences with their imaginative
which he attributes to his early study of theater direction.
production of The Barber of Seville for Houston Grand
As every note of music must convey special meaning,
Opera, directed by Font and designed by long-time
every design element on stage must serve a purpose.
collaborator Joan Guillén.
While Guillén’s geometrical aesthetic is in part influenced
Els Comediants made their opera debut in 1999, mounting a new production of The Magic Flute for Barcelona’s Theater Victoria that had been commissioned by Gran Teatre del Liceu. Font explained that his collective was approached to stage opera because of the group’s vivid imagination and their impactful, sentimental, and emotional direction—qualities required of any opera. The
by the paintings of Pablo Picasso, his economical and versatile designs are heavily inspired by the German Bauhaus movement. Describing the early phase of his creative process, Guillén used the metaphor of combining all of his influences and ideas into a juicer and blending them into one cohesive look—getting the creative juices flowing, so to speak.
Barber of Seville exemplifies the group’s uniform, angular
As we cheer rousing orchestral playing and virtuosic
look that creates dreamlike, naive, and even magical
singing led by an impassioned conductor, let us not
worlds. The artistic process is ever evolving, and during
forget the creative team that welcomed us into their
the early rehearsal period of the opera, the team buzzes
world, a realm in which we experience the heightened
around the room like children on a jungle gym. Through
emotions that opera evokes. Such emotions are
this prism of innocence and unbridled imagination, their
crystallized when Almaviva and Rosina are married in
language infuses Rossini’s work with explosive joy and
the finale of The Barber of Seville.
passion from beginning to end.
Excerpted from an article that appeared in Houston
The creative language of Els Comediants is very much
Grand Opera’s magazine Opera Cues, fall 2012. Used with
a product of the entire team, but it is expressed in large
permission of Houston Grand Opera and the author.
part through the designer. Guillén has been a scenic and costume designer for over 40 years, and recently finished his tenure as a professor at the Theater Institute’s School of Dramatic Art in Barcelona. Forget conventional period sets and costumes—Guillén’s designs pop with geometrical, linear, and boldly colorful elements. The warm-hearted Spaniard with a handlebar moustache describes how he employs clean designs with little ornamentation in order to help the audience immediately
James Byrne, a Chicago-based arts administrator, currently works in development at The Joffrey Ballet and has previously served in various capacities in marketing and artistic administration at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Music Academy of the West, Houston Grand Opera, and the New York Philharmonic.