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“Starchitects” + Set Design

July 9, 2010

Herzog and de Meuron's "Attila" at the Metropolitan Opera

Calatrava's New York City Ballet set

It is not uncommon for architects to dip into the set design world.  Joseph Urban, David Rockwell, and Scott Pask are just a few trained architects who have either designed primarily for the stage or split time between architecture & theatre.  Recently, Santiago Calatrava and Herzog and de Meuron designed sets for ballet & opera.  Not surprisingly, Calatrava produced a minimalist sculptural set for the New York City Ballet while H&dM created a more lush architectural intervention that successfully solved the “vertical” issue at the Met Opera.  I think architects could take a few notes from H&dM’s “Attila” production.  They thought like architects.  They didn’t want to paint a landscape, but wanted to use constraints as a way of producing a functional and beautiful (literal) set.  The Met has always been blessed & cursed with a giant proscenium where actors often get lost in the black hole.  The “Attila” set attempts to humanize the actors and bring the set to a scale that works with the huge space and create intimacy for the individual performances.  That is a beautiful thing for the spectacle of Opera!

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