Insight

Inside the world of Carmen at the Royal Opera House with Lorenzo Eynard.

We sat down with Designer Lorenzo Eynard to chat about his experience working on the set for the Royal Opera House’s production of Carmen, and how staging a story has a lot to do with branding.

To call Lorenzo multifaceted would be an understatement. The DixonBaxi Designer had the opportunity to collaborate with the set design team on a new production of Carmen at the Royal Opera House. We, obviously, couldn’t wait to hear all about it.  

What drew you to opera and why do you love it?

I encountered opera for the first time in elementary school. We participated in a program that introduced youth to the world of opera theatre, and so we learnt and sang some arias from Donizetti’s "Elisir d’Amore". At the time, I didn't fully grasp what opera was; I simply remember having fun with my classmates. However, that experience planted a seed deep in my heart that eventually blossomed into a robust and majestic passion.

Later on I began listening to recordings and had the opportunity to see a couple of operas at our city theatre. My curiosity rapidly grew, and soon I became an avid opera-goer. Since then, I’ve visited many opera houses and festivals all around Europe. Now living in London, I try to attend the Royal Opera House as often as possible. Opting for a standing ticket with a partial view of the stage makes for a fairly affordable experience.

In my opinion, opera represents the highest form of human creativity. It is the ultimate expression of art, encompassing music, singing, acting, dancing, dramaturgy, and design within a single experience. As a melodramatic person myself, I get very emotional when storytelling and music are combined to bring characters who are full of love, joy, or despair to life. I often relate to those characters and I sigh and sob as their stories unfold on the stage.

Could you share some highlights and key takeaways from your internship at the Royal Opera House, especially your role assisting the director and production designer?

Throughout my years as an opera fan, I've had the privilege of meeting various artists and professionals in the industry. A few years back, I reached out to Paolo Fantin, an incredibly innovative and internationally acclaimed set designer. We've stayed in touch since, and in March, he generously invited me to join him and his creative team for a new production of Carmen at the Royal Opera House. It was truly one of the most exciting months of my life.

Fantin frequently collaborates with director Damiano Michieletto, a visionary genius and one of my favourite opera directors. The work they create together is incredibly crafted and thought-provoking. They frequently challenge traditional interpretations of operatic works, reimagining stories in contemporary settings and offering new insights into the characters' motivations. Having the opportunity to observe them and the rest of the creative team at work was a tremendous privilege.

What were some of the things you handled while working on the new production of Carmen? How did these tasks contribute to the final production?

During the month of rehearsals, my role was that of an intern’s; I was there to absorb everything. I worked closely with the set designer and his assistant, helping them coordinate the assembly ofscenes alongside the in-house technicians. Fantin, Michieletto, and their team were all incredibly open to collaboration, which meant that I had the opportunity to participate in various phases of the process, from directing the singers to designing the lighting.

Simply observing the team at work would have brought me immense joy, so when they discovered my graphic design skills and asked me to create actual props for the opera, I was over the moon. It made me feel that my contribution was real and tangible. I designedthe Death card of a tarot deck, magazines for the chorus to use as fans, the label of a beer Carmen drinks in Act 1, and the police documents that Don Jose takes to his superior, among many other things.

I remember being particularly impressed by Fantin's attention to detai. For instance, he asked me to write the police documents in actual Spanish. While we knew that even the people in the first row using binoculars might not see the words on those documents, I approached the task with utmost seriousness. I even added the Spanish police stamp from that period to ensure philological accuracy. The level of dedication across their work was truly admirable and inspiring.

How has being immersed in opera influenced your design philosophy?

I believe opera direction and branding design have a lot of overlaps. Both are creative disciplines where different teams bring their expertise together to create compelling and memorable narratives within a cultural context. This experience at the Royal Opera House made me reflect on the importance of storytelling in communication, whether for theatre or branding. Storytelling is crucial for establishing a connection with an audience, and ultimately, it's the most powerful way to amplify and transfer emotions.

The first question that an opera director must ask themselves when approaching a new production is about the inner nature of the piece. Besides the historical setting or the instructions left on the score, what is the story really about? What are the core themes, and why are they still relevant to today's audience? What story do I want to tell the audience? These questions pertain to the true essence of the work and aren’t merely formal choices. The most technologically developed special effects are just a sterile exercise in style if they do not serve a relevant and clear narrative. Similarly, in branding, meticulously crafted logos, harmonious colour palettes, and sophisticated type systems are meaningless if not part of a believable and captivating story.

What were some of the most interesting creative decisions you observed during your internship? How did these decisions impact the staging of Carmen?

In my opinion, one of the most interesting elements of this new production is the introduction of the silent character of Don Jose’s mother onto the stage. Although she is not listed in the cast, the libretto frequently references the mother. She’s the one who sends Micaela to talk to Don Jose, and is often present in his thoughts. It almost feels as though she is the driving force shaping the other characters’ behaviours  and propelling the plot forward. Together with the dramaturge, Michieletto emphasised the power that the mother holds over Don Jose's psychology by placing her on stage in opposition to Carmen—and elevating her as the ultimate antagonist. This approach adds depth and richness to each character's psychology in a way that I found very powerful on stage.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and what did you learn from them?

One of the biggest challenges of this production was the character of Don Jose’s mother. The character had a significant stage presence—even though she was silent, the actress was meant to convey a strong sense of authority. However, as the character developed throughout the production, the team gradually realised that the initially chosen actress didn’t quite fit the bill.

Four days before the premiere, Michieletto and the team made the difficult decision to search for a new actress—a considerable challenge given the time constraints and the importance of the role. Almost like changing a brand’s logo a few weeks before the final delivery. In the end, the new actress fit the character much better, portraying Don Jose’s mother as the production team had envisioned.

I really admired how the team strived to achieve the best possible outcome, making difficult decisions like this so close to the final date. Maintaining a critical eye at every step of the process is key to staying true to your creative vision, no matter how challenging that may be.

Having experienced the behind-the-scenes of an opera production, what are your future aspirations in this field? Are there productions or roles you want to take on next?

There are lots of interesting comparisons to make between opera direction and design. In branding, you use an existing toolkit to create something new. Similarly, in opera direction, the libretto and score already exist—it’s up to the director to find exciting new ways to deliver the product, such as by exploring implicit meanings from the original libretto.

The exercise of reworking a pre-existing set of ideas is something I recognise in my design practice, and is what I find particularly fascinating about my field. It’s empowering to realise that this approach can be applied to such a different space like opera. I am hoping to put my skills as a graphic designer at the service of another opera production in the future!