Set Design

“A cinema studio is a factory for making ghosts. The cinema is a ghost language that has to be learned. It is incredible for a poet to know this.” Jean Cocteau

The set design for Orphée, by Lizzie Clachan, takes inspiration from the film “Testament d’Orphée”, made by Cocteau on 1960, ten years after the filming of “Orphée”. In “Testament”, his last ever film, Cocteau takes various random props from the original film – a table, a chair, a doorway – and sets them up in a large, vacant film studio. The mechanics of film-making; lights, cameras, cables and ladders, are part of the setting. Actors from the film reappear and the act of film making itself is put on trial.

The score of the opera Orphée, like a film, has no breaks or pauses. Each scene moves seamlessly into the next. To reflect this, the set for Orphée is in constant motion, from first upbeat to last note, the furniture for one scene moving without pause into the next. The sheer complexity and mathematics of achieving what aims to be minimal and imperceptible is both extremely demanding and a reflection of the mechanics of Glass’ music, and its demands on the singers and instrumentalists. The primacy of number, to take an expression from Glass himself, is represented by the video mapping floor pattern which enables both the stage mathematics and the projection design – the technical graphics of a film studio.

The set plays with ideas of the empty “frame” so beloved by Cocteau, and the rectangles and frame-making of cinema screens. With references to the original play of Orphée by Cocteau and other operas by Glass, the set also reflects on these ideas of a multiple mirror, or self-reference, the endless quotations and duplicates which mark Cocteau’s work.

Sharing a set with four other completely different productions of Orphée adds further intense complexities, and the simplicity and empty space of the set belies the extraordinary logistics and minute allocations of fly bars, stage setting points, wing space and production turnarounds of a shared environment, which has to change one opera to another in two hours. Minimal in intention, intense in preparation and emotional in realisation, it is a mirror to the music of Philip Glass.

Netia Jones