Set designer Gary McCann tells us how he brought to life the scenography for the opera Turandot at the inspired by the clothes of the famous designer Roberto Capucci, known throughout the world for his extraordinary creations. 


"The project originated with the fashion designer Roberto Capucci. Now aged 93, in his 80s he had been developing costume drawings for a unique vision of Turandot. The Teatro Petruzelli in Bari were approached with the idea of mounting a fully realised production, and immediately agreed to present it. 


My long term collaborator Paul Curran and I were chosen to respectively direct and design the sets. I was somewhat bemused at the offer - my last contact with a well known fashion designer ended disastrously. But when we met with Roberto at his penthouse in Rome, we quickly realised we were dealing with an exceptional man and artist. Like his famous "sculpture dresses" from the 1960s, and his extraordinary gowns for royalty and movie stars, the sketches showed his incredible skill manipulating fabric into geometric forms, whilst also showcasing his fearless use of strong tones.  


So I found myself creatively in a unique position - being charged with creating a scenography that needed to manifest as a stage environment the imagination, form, rhythm, and logic of Capucci's fashion designs. Exploring his visual universe was thrilling; the folds, pleats, and unexpected colour combinations in his clothing have invited international acclaim for decades. 

The concept for the set was surprisingly easy to arrive at, once I had studied Roberto's previous work. The set would be a blank canvas, pure white, featuring mysterious giant origami forms which would expand and contract to create shifting scenographic spaces. Dynamic use of coloured lighting and video mapping would allow the abstracted geometric shape to function as projection surfaces.  


Once the concept was in place I ran a series of renders on AI (using Midjourney) to quickly brainstorm the origami concept and explore shapes and possibilities. The AI images were very convincing, and I and my associate Gloria Bolchini used these images as references from which we developed a whole series of 3d computer models. Step by step these models were refined and further refined until we had a space we felt worked perfectly for the piece.  

Midjourney's renders

Final renders

The set itself represents a number of different ideas: it is initially a closed lotus, the pair of giant paper swans on either side created the gates of Peking city, later in the second act the crown-like central structure is raised and the set becomes an orchid-shaped palace facade. In the third act, which features the torture and death of Liu, a new set of shapes are introduced which are reminiscent of the claws of a giant crab, or insect mandibles, and lend the space a more dynamic aggressive energy, until they rise upwards and frame the set as an arch. The majority of the set is clad in matt white dancefloor, giving all the surfaces a consistency, apart from the interior of the central temple structure which houses a kaleidoscopic mirrored chamber with a bank of 8 LED screens to the rear.  


Collaboration with the rest of the team was key - Driscoll Otto was the video designer, he provided an ever-changing series of projections creating textural cosmic and elemental effects, and Fabio Barretin the lighting designer fused his work seamlessly with the physical scenery and projected moving images. The plastic nature of Driscoll and Fabio's work allowed us to constantly echo, compliment and contrast the wild shapes and palette of Capucci's costume scheme."

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