Catherine Zuber's costume designs for Il Barbiere di Siviglia as featured on The Metropolitan Opera website.

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Sketch of a costume for Rosina



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Sketch of a costume for Dr. Bartolo

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Sketch of a costume for Almaviva

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Members of the design team of An American in Paris make their MET Debut

This spring, designers Douglas Schmidt and Catherine Zuber make their debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House: Schmidt designs sets for Il Trittico and Zuber creates costumes for Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

As announced by the Alley Theatre, both Schmidt and Zuber will be part of the top design team slated to join forces on the Alley’s world premiere production of The Gershwin’s An American in Paris with an all new book by Ken Ludwig.

No stranger to Broadway, Douglas Schmidt designed the sets for the original production of Grease as well as 50 other Broadway shows. He is a two-time Tony Award nominee for 42nd Street and Into The Woods and a three-time Drama Desk Award winner. Recently, he had this to say of his work on Il Trittico:

"We spent about a year and a half working on the designs. First thing I do is find out the physical demands: what's happening onstage, how long one has to accomplish given actions. The transition from the bedroom to the Florence skyline in Gianni Schicchi must happen in less than 20 seconds! After some visual research—the librarians at George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch were of enormous help cutting materials from the former Paramount Studios picture library—I made sketches and models. The parts of Il Trittico bear no relation dramatically, so they require separate visual approaches. We set it up on stage for technical rehearsals last summer for a show that was opening 10 months later."

Catherine Zuber most recently designed the costumes for Tom Stoppard’s trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, for Lincoln Center Theatre. She is a two-time Tony Award winner, for The Light In the Piazza and last season’s revival of Awake and Sing. The following interview with Catherine Zuber was recently published by the Metropolitan Opera:

Catherine Zuber charmed theatergoers—and won a Tony Award—with her spot-on 1950s costumes for Adam Guettel's musical The Light in the Piazza. For her Met debut, Bartlett Sher's inventive new production of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Zuber is reunited with her creative cohorts from Piazza, but her provocative costumes are nothing like the Eisenhower-era garb of that show. The designer—who has created costumes for Broadway musicals and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays ( The Sound of Music and Doubt, among others) and for opera companies across the U.S.—talked to the Met's Vanessa Palo about sexing up the look of Barbiere.

Vanessa Palo: You're working with old friends—director Bartlett Sher, set designer Michael Yeargan, and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind. What has that been like?

Catherine Zuber: We all play off of each other. Michael has such a wonderful color sense. When I see what Michael's doing with colors, it's very inspiring for me to then know what colors to put on the performers and what will inhabit the space he's created. The icing on the cake is the lighting that Chris does to pull it all together. And with Bart we feel we have guidance, but we also have a lot of freedom to come to the table with a lot of ideas and suggestions. He's very open to our input.

VP: You're well-known for your designs for Broadway. What about your experience designing for opera?

CZ: Because the emotions are sung, it doesn't have to be as grounded in realism as some theatrical pieces demand, but it's not that dissimilar.

VP: Were you familiar with Barbiere when you were approached to do the costumes?

CZ: I've seen productions, but I've never done a production, so it was quite exciting to sink my teeth into it. I made a trip to Seville. Our first impression when we got out of the cab is just how many oranges there were everywhere. Oranges are just scattered all over the sides of the roads!

VP: What is typically the first question you ask yourself when you're designing costumes?

CZ: What I like to do is talk to the director to see how they see the characters. I like to almost do an interview—I get my pad and paper and I'll say to the director: “How do you see Don Basilio? How do you see Bartolo? How do you see Rosina?” Then I feel I can dive in and start designing.

VP: Bart Sher has said that this production is unique because it's light, witty, and whimsical. How has his vision for the production influenced your designs?

CZ: Bart felt connected to commedia for this piece; the style is so stereotypical of certain people—the young lovers, the deluded older man. He said to look at those types and reinterpret them to suit the style of our production. So that was the underlying research for me, not that they look anything like commedia costumes.

VP: This is a fresh production, but it's not a modern production.

CZ: It's a period production, but I feel it has a modern sensibility. We looked at what's happening in couture, for example, just to be influenced by flights of fancy, which are so evident when you look at the couture of Galliano or Alexander McQueen. It gives you the license to say that being modern can also be a modern version of a fantasy, of evoking another era.

VP: Do you listen to a lot of opera?

CZ: I love listening to opera, usually in the morning. I'll play either opera or the classical music station. I just think it's an all encompassing smorgasbord for telling stories.

Click here to read more about the Il Trittico and Il Barbiere di Siviglia as well as other upcoming productions at New York's Metroplitan Opera.

The following Photo Gallery of Douglas W. Schmidt's Set Designs for Il Trittico is featured on The Metropolitan Opera website:

Set model for Il Tabarro
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Set model for Suor Angelica
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Set model for a scene from Gianni Schicchi
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Set model for a scene from Gianni Schicchi
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