No stealing the opera backdrops (they won’t fit in your apartment anyway)
The opera season has started up again, and this Thursday, my comic collective and I had the opportunity to sketch through a final dress rehearsal of the Minnesota Opera Company’s performance of Nabucco. As the MN Opera folks describe it:
Verdi’s monumental opera follows the plight of the Jews as they are conquered and exiled from their homeland by King Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco). With its soaring choruses, triumphant arias and bold drama, Nabucco won Verdi’s reputation as an operatic icon and national hero.
Nabucco was stunningly gorgeous, and I’m so glad I got a chance to draw it. I’m also glad I brought my iPad instead of a sketchpad, because it allowed me to focus on the colors. Nabucco was originally performed in brilliantly colored costumes to make them visible on a lamplit stage in 1842, and this performance aimed to mimic those colors, but this time with modern lighting. The sets were also a callback to those early performances, using 21 gorgeously painted flat backdrops to achieve an illusion of depth. And in one more nod to the opera’s origins, this performance was done as a sort of play within a play, always framed by the curtains and pillared box seats of an Austrian theatre. At the beginning of each act, the Austrian “audience” would walk across the stage to return to their seats, watched over by the guards. And throughout the performance, you could see Austrian ladies and gentlemen watching the opera. Now, I’ll own up to missing a lot of Nabucco’s story because I spent most of the opera with my nose in my iPad, trying to match colors. But I can say with absolute certainty that if you appreciate beauty, this opera is absolutely worth it for the costumes and sets alone. I kept trying to sketch out the sets and failing because there was too much detail and too big a cast in gorgeous costumes to get it all down. It was operatic eye candy of the best kind. This is as far as I got o the second set before it changed – it doesn’t come close to covering the number of people or the illusion of depth the drops give: A number of us were debating whether it would be possible to hang this massive backdrop in our homes, because LOOK AT THOSE LIONS: (Woefully, we realized none of us had tall enough ceilings.) Since I couldn’t do the backdrops justice, I spent most of my energy on character sketches. The royal family of Babylon stood out in brightly jewel tones compared to the mostly white palette of the Jews, and I’m a sucker for jewel tones. Fenena, the younger daughter of Nabucco, stood out from her first moment on stage in bright teal.
Abigaille had the unfortunate storyline of “My parents didn’t tell me I was adopted, so when I found out by accident I decided to go full-on Loki and kill everybody.” Awful trope. Fabulous wardrobe, though. King Nabucco was an equally snazzy dresser.
My favorite costume was probably the High Priest of Baal, whose robes, beard, and fingernails all seemed to have swallowed him. While overall Nabucco wasn’t my favorite opera I’ve seen, it was easily the most beautiful. The Minnesota Opera Company knocked the set design and costuming on this out of the park. Nabucco runs for September 22, 25, 27, 29 and 30, and you can find more information (and tickets!) here.