Every Fall for the last bunch of years, we have designed the Metropolitan Opera's Gala Celebration to mark the opening of its Fall season. It's both a huge honor and a huge responsibility to create something of the stature and enormity of the company's storied productions. Within the same enormous tent used to house New York Fashion Week directly next to the Metropolitan Opera House, we create a seated dinner for 1,100 luminaries in entertainment, society, and business, and for me the artistic pressure is both exciting and daunting.
Daunting?! Yes, because the space and expectation are BIG, and when your goal is to be a conceptual extension of the drama that just unfolded on the stage, you need to do it in a way that is smart. We started by looking at the stage set and the story of ANNA BOLENA, this season's opening production. The more we studied the production, the more we got specifically hooked on the costumes designed by Jenny Tiramani which, in turn, were inspired by the clothing in Holbein portraits of the actual historical characters that the opera was based on.
We took the shape of period arched windows and created our own "stained glass" designs, using interesting crops from those very same Holbein paintings. The "windows" are an optical illusion, digitally printed on fabric and suspended everywhere within the draped tent. Then we intermittently hung Restoration Hardware's large pillar candle chandeliers at varying heights to further create a sense of place.
The room was set for a royal banquet fit for Henry VIII with a grand, rectangular head table cutting through a sea of rounds. Inspired by the Restoration Hardware chandeliers, we created table candelabras that elevated rings of glowing LED pillars from the retailer as well for a third of the tables. At table level, gorgeous fruits taken directly from a Dutch still-life painting were interwoven with grape vine foliage. For the other tables, we created plush bouquets of hydrangeas, dahlias, garden roses, and clustered fruits in antique garden urns.
You know, it's funny. People have gotten so used to some of the wacky, conceptual installations we do with paper and other recyclable materials, they forget our start really was with actual flowers. They often ask, "Who does your flowers?" With great pride, I am able to say, “WE DO!" But you know what? It is so great to have an occasion where conceptually flowers are the RIGHT tool in the toolbox and not just default because it is a "dinner party."
All photos by Susan Montagna
A big thank you to all of our Dutch master forefathers, and to all of my buddies at the Metropolitan Opera who I respect so much for their innovative thinking and the constant challenge to be the best we can be as designers and partners.