Theatrical set design is a glorious strain of architecture in which grandiose expression is often praised, and architectural space and program work together to produce the most resonant surface images imaginable for a fixed stage front audience. Take for instance Herzog and de Meuron and Miuccia Prada’s extravagant pile of rubble turned into a verdant multimedia marshland, used to evoke a collapsed and then overgrown Roman Empire for the Met Opera’s production of Attila.
So what place does inexpensive Swedish modernist furniture have on the opera stage? As we learned from Designboom, the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, Italy believes such pieces do have a place in the upper tiers of the performing arts, and its production teams went to popular furniture manufacturer Ikea to furnish the set designs of two operas, The Bell by Gaetono Donizzetti and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.
Set in the Victorian era, The Bell rides on the flexibility of Ikea’s pieces, opting mostly for the brand’s stark white shelves and kitchen cabinetry to display symbolic objects and status symbols. Much like how Helvetica was intended to carry printed messages in their purest forms, Ikea’s modular compartments are to serve as blank husks that bring attention to the objects they exhibit. Accompanying white tables and chairs become clean, stylized symbols of affluence that echo the often expensive, designed minimalism in vogue today. Overall, the set looks like a page ripped from the Ikea catalog.
Meanwhile, Gianni Schinni uses a more traditional set excepting the white, curtained Ikea bed frame in center stage, which functions as the production’s main prop. Operatic singers dressed in colorful medieval garb are choreographed to parade around the strikingly simple “Aspelund” bed frame. Curiously, the central prop is somewhat aligned with the rest of the set: the drapery folds of the curtains appear properly dramatic, especially as they hang from a standalone four-poster bed raised on a stepped platform like a Roman temple.
The chosen Ikea furnishings shine with more expression than ever as they stand in contrast with the more traditional elements of operatic milieu. The pieces are theatrical in their own way, refusing to mask their function with obvious illusion and drawing attention instead to their existence as props cooperating in a theatrical performance.
[All images via Designboom]