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Article Published: 01 Jan 2019

A Boost for Creativity

Four 20th- and 21st-century operas, ranging from Tosca (1900) to The Little Prince (2003), serve as the inspirations for the creative teams that have been selected as finalists for the 2019 Robert L.B. Tobin Director- Designer Showcase. Each of the four finalist teams has received $2,000 to refine their concept proposals, and they will all present them at Opera Conference 2019 this June in San Francisco. The designs will then be featured in six-month rotating exhibitions at the National Opera Center, beginning this summer. 

Launched in 2008 with support from the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund, the Director-Designer Showcase provides emerging directors and designers with a national platform to introduce their work to industry leaders. Every two years, directors and designers submit production concepts for a select group of operas, with the most promising proposals receiving support for further development.

2019 Director-Designer Showcase Finalists

The Little Prince
(Rachel Portman)

Noam Shapiro, director
Santiago Orjuela-Laverde, scenic design
Tamrin Goldberg, choreography
Haydee Zelideth, costume design
Reza Behjat, lighting design
Yana Birÿkova, projection design

In this interpretation of Portman’s opera, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s fable about a mysterious young boy and a stranded pilot becomes a modern migration story. As a group of migrants waits at the U.S. border, a father calms the children by recasting their dangerous journey as the intergalactic travels of the Little Prince, transforming their interactions with smugglers, officers and aid workers into encounters with strange grownups and resplendent beasts.

María de Buenos Aires
(Astor Piazzolla)

Victoria Crutchfield, director
Bryce Cutler, scenic design
Nina Bova, costume design
Mary Ellen Stebbins, lighting design
Kevan Loney, video design

This production places María — the central character in a tale of seduction, prostitution and sexual abuse — in a transparent box, representing the prison of the male gaze. Upon her death, the box breaks open and mirrored panels split, revealing mirrors beyond mirrors.

The Rape of Lucretia
(Benjamin Britten)

Marcus Shields, director
Ryan Howell, scenic and costume design
Oliver Tidwell Littleton, lighting design

This contemporary reading of Britten’s opera shifts between literal and symbolic representations of the text’s events. The spare white set evokes at various junctures an art gallery, a scientific laboratory and a “shrine of memory.”

(Giacomo Puccini)

Shadi Ghaheri, director and choreographer
John Bondi-Ernoehazy, scenic design
Mika Eubanks, costume design
Samuel Chan, lighting design
Yaara Bar, projection design

In a framing story, a group of Iranian actors risk their lives to stage Tosca, knowing that their government will not allow such stories to be told. They reimagine the opera’s characters as political prisoners who live under an oppressive regime, one that weaponizes religion and arrests and executes people who believe in love, freedom and justice.

This article was published in the Winter 2019 issue of Opera America Magazine.