Two Chamber Operas 

Modular Set Design for an Independent Opera Company

Two contemporary music composers had been commissioned to write two chamber operas to be performed back to back as part of a festival. Of course there was only a bit of money to build one set, so we thought that it would be a good idea to produce a modular design, in the manner of inter-war avant-garde theater, that they could both use. Quickly, it became apparent that the two operas were too different for this approach. One of them, an actualized version of the myth of Kassandra, was sited in a contemporary North American corporate headquarters, while the other one, an adaptation of Ionesco’s The Leader, was to be set in a zany version of Italy circa 1930. In addition to this, the opera company operated in a converted church space, with a small stage lacking wings or any of the usual machinery to effect scene changes. The response was a collection of two-sided pieces, each the size of an armoire, and all of them on casters, that the singers themselves continuously rearranged without having to leave the stage. The two operas were premiered in Houston, on March 8, to critical and popular acclaim.

Photography: Nash Baker

© Jesús Vassallo, 2020