Pierre Yovanovitch designs movable backdrops for a staging of the Italian opera Rigoletto

Sinuous Scenography

A staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Theater Basel in Switzerland visually fabricates  the dramatic Italian opera with a flexuous set design. Interiors and furniture designer Pierre Yovanovitch developed the subdued backdrops for the rich-plotted drama, in which power, vengeance, and innocence take center stage.

The opera is based on Le Roi s’amuse, a 1832 play by Victor Hugo. It recounts the story of a court jester Rigoletto, whose daughter, much to his demise, falls for the unscrupulous Duke of Mantua. From this, a tale of vengeance emerges, ultimately culminating in a tragic love story.

(Paolo Abate)

Yovanovitch has long admired operas and jumped at the opportunity to realize the set design for Rigoletto when invited by acclaimed director Vincent Huguet. His scenography takes on a curvaceous form realized as a series of movable circular partitions. These layers are symbolic representations of the plot denoting the elapse of time. As the story unfolds the curved walls move closer and closer in on each other. They are conceived as objects that can be adjusted, added, or removed for dramatic effect to simulate the themes and moods of the characters and storyline.

(Paolo Abate)

“I created a moving set that could gradually take shape as Rigoletto’s curse evolves. I conceived it as a stripped-down set so that the characters’ souls, in disinheritance, can take up as much place as they need,” Yovanovitch said in a project description. “The décor also symbolizes the passage of time, quickly, and above all what we have done with our lives and what it has done with us.”

While the opera, its characters, plot, and themes provided much of the inspiration for the set design, Yovanovitch inescapably pulled from his own design ethos and portfolio, applying the vibrant colors and striking architectural forms found in his interiors and furniture designs.

(Paolo Abate)

The backdrops feature bold shades of blue and red. For the scenes, the stage itself is sparsely outfitted with minimal furniture and other decorative props in use, a deliberate effort that instead places emphasis on the actors and storyline.

Among the few set objects are a plump chaise lounge, a sophisticated dining set, a circular blue sofa and chair, and an oversized chandelier comprising several tiers of thin strip lighting.

(Paolo Abate)

At stage left a curving staircase wraps up and around the backmost layer of the set, forming a prop for the actors to mount, while also offering a point of architectural interest and essence of domesticity.

Rigoletto is on show at Theater Basel through June 21.