March 20, 2023

The Resurrection - Set Designer's Notes

It is an understatement to say that the set designs I’ve created for Handel’s oratorio-come-opera The Resurrection differ dramatically from those I’ve presented in the past. For most of the company’s history I’ve designed scenery for a traditional opera stage composed of a proscenium arch and fly system but this time in keeping with the first performance of this, Handel’s first masterpiece circumstances find me designing not for a theatre but for a concert hall and not just any concert hall but Koerner Hall, one of the finest venues of its kind in North America.

When Handel presented The Resurrection in Rome in 1708 the performance of opera was forbidden by papal edict. Ever resourceful, Handel and his patron the Marchese Francesco Ruspoli skirted the official censors by staging the work as a liturgical drama presented with lavish scenery in the galleria of the Marchese’s palazzo.

Four years ago when we first decided to stage The Resurrection we looked for a venue away from the theatre that like Handel and Ruspoli’s had visual grandeur and a fine acoustic. Not surprisingly we settled on Toronto’s Koerner Hall. I immediately set to work creating designs meant to compliment the contemporary majesty of its interior. Instead of painted illusionistic backdrops I thought in three dimensions and drew set pieces that blended into the atmosphere of sculpted, honey-coloured wood that makes up the hall’s stage and its surroundings. To create multiple playing spaces I designed a double staircase leading to the choir loft and backed it with elaborate hanging drapery. Part of the drama of the opera consists of a heated dialogue between the Angel and Lucifer. They will deliver their barbs from elevated pulpits inspired by 18th century Italian storage chests called a cassapanca.

Since first designing the set the production has followed a winding and unexpected path. The ongoing Covid-19 epidemic saw that first production meant for a live audience and ready for installation in the Hall cancelled and postponed. Shortly thereafter we reconceived the piece as a film for online broadcast using the same location and setting. As rehearsals began and preparations were underway a renewed lockdown saw the closure of the facility once again and the loss of our performance venue. Undaunted we pivoted to a new filming location, the grand ballroom of the historic. St. Lawrence Hall. Here we filmed a version of the opera with a set that incorporated elements of my original design adapted to the unusual space.

Now four years after creating the drawings I am delighted to present the complete design in the setting of this glorious concert hall. How fitting that after three set-backs, rather like “near-death” experiences we present this opera about rebirth at last as we originally intended.

Please join us for what is a unique, historic event in Opera Atelier's history and celebrate the arrival of Spring. Click here to purchase tickets for Opera Atelier's fully-staged production of The Resurrection or call the Royal Conservatory of Music at 1.888.408.0208