Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Blowing in the Wind

Set and Costume designer Bunny Christie has created quite an ingenious set for the world premiere of Andre Previn's second opera Brief Encounter. Because the story takes place mostly in the memory of the leading lady in several locations (both indoor and out), the design had to move seamlessly from living room, to snack bar, to train station, to lake and other places outdoors (just to name a few). There exists one primary set, that of the weathered grey brick train station, but sections of it disappear and change to give the feeling of a whole new location. One of the most unique is the placement of 5 trees in the interior of the train station. It works perfectly...

Trees equal leaves...and that creates challenge. Because real leaves, after being walked on all night, would create quite the mess, be unusable night after night, and would cause an unwanted sound on the stage, the hunt for reusable artificial leaves began in the HGO prop department. But that is not the whole challenge... the set calls for "British fall leaves" which are not like the orange, red and yellow fall leaves of the US, they need to be fireproof and they must behave like real natural leaves blowing in the wind.

The perfect solution was found in a completely unique company in East Sussex, England - Shirley Leaf and Petal Company. The company, which has been around for over 100 years, makes flameproof parchment leaves that will act on stage the same as a leaf in nature. Fabric leaves would fall to fast to appear real but parchment leaves should flutter and fall like real ones. AND they can make them in any color necessary- including "British Fall"! Two-thousand "greeny-brown" individual oak-leaves in various sizes were ordered.

Shirley Leaf and Petal has created leaves and flowers for fashion designers (John Galliano once made a dress covered with Shirley leather leaves), leaves for Disney's Pocahontas, rose petals for Steven Spielberg and giant dahlias for Glyndebourne. Be sure to check them out online and if you ever find yourself in England...visit their museum!

Such small details make opera so grand!

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