Thinking Outside the Box at Glyndebourne Opera Festival

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Every architect should draw on as broad a range of influences as possible. If you only look within architecture for that next spark you’ll hit an inevitable problem: it’s all made by architects.

Style, method and philosophy may change from architect to architect but everyone within a profession will have a degree of similarity. For a truly fresh take, I keep my eyes open for unexpected architectural works – in as broad a definition as possible – from those outside my field.

I experienced this recently at Jonathan Kent’s production of the Mozart classic, Don Giovanni – running as part of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival.

Set designers, like architects, play with light and space to find techniques that enhance both. Unlike us, they have the luxury of being able to tear down the set afterwards and no building regulations work within.

Designer Paul Brown put light and space to spectacular work in Don Giovanni. The performance  opened with a rotating cube lit from once side, a light box in pure architectural form. This opened to reveal an alternating interior or exterior with exaggerated classical forms.

The dynamism, flexibility and contrast created for the first act was pushed even further in the grand finale. The entire cube deconstructed into shards of concrete, forming angular planes that reduced to set to bare essentials; exaggerating perspective and condensing the performance into pure drama.

So rarely have I seen architectural style literally transform before my eyes. The freedom set designers have!

My visit wasn’t without typical inspiration either. Michael Hopkin’s opera theatre at Glyndebourne looks as grand and precise as its unveiling 20 years ago. It’s a brilliant mix of sheer craftsmanship, simple geometric forms and vernacular materials – sure to leave an impression regardless of what’s on stage.

The Glyndebourne Opera Festival runs until August 24th but tickets are selling out fast. At the time of writing, there’s still bookings available for Don Giovanni on July 25th and I highly recommend any opera fan not to miss out.

By John Dyer-Grimes