“At times I get up in the middle of the night and stop all the clocks. All of them,” an getting old princess sings in “Der Rosenkavalier,” Richard Strauss’s sprawling opera of affection, devotion and loss. And time is fleeting, the character explains to her younger lover: It “courses between you and me — silent, as in an hourglass.”
Time typically performs a job in operatic plots, from the evil machinations in “Rigoletto” timed to the midnight toll of a village clock to the so-called “clock scene” in “Boris Godunov,” when the title character has visions of a younger prince he could have murdered.
However this yr a number of productions around the globe have been utilizing clocks of their set designs, both as a delicate background merchandise or so central that the timepiece looks as if a personality itself.
Maybe the opera most related with clocks is “L’heure espagnole” (“Spanish Time”), Maurice Ravel’s one-act farce a few neurotic clockmaker and his untrue spouse. It’s being staged Aug. 22-26 on the Grimeborn Opera Pageant in East London — with a twist.
“In this opera, two of the characters get hidden in grandfather clocks and are then taken upstairs, but we don’t have the budget to make two massive grandfather clocks,” mentioned Christopher Killerby, the manufacturing’s set designer. “I wanted to make them more human, so the clocks are masks on the actors, with numbers circling around the face.”
Mr. Killerby mentioned that he did create a clock store — “I have a friend who is a horologist, so I’m using lots of his equipment, so it’s reminiscent of a real watchmaker’s shop” — however that he additionally wished one thing atmospheric.
“We have several singers dressed as clocks who strike a chime as the show is about to begin,” he mentioned. “They have on black overcoats with masks and white gloves. We have a sort of tick-tick-tick soundscape before any of the music starts.”
On the Glyndebourne summer season opera competition in southern England, “L’heure espagnole” has been a favourite (a manufacturing shared with the Paris Opera, La Scala, the Rome Opera and the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Pageant in Japan) and is accessible for livestreaming. Its designers, Caroline Ginet and Florence Evrard, mentioned that making a set was all the time about enriching the story, however that it was notably true on this case.
“On one hand, the set design is the accumulation of the clockmaker’s life, but on the other hand, the household items are an accumulation of their neurosis together,” Ms. Ginet mentioned. “His wife, Concepción, is buried in household objects, and the two characters are very separated because of that. For her, the clock is truly ticking. It’s the middle of the day and the middle of her life.”
The designers mentioned that discovering clocks for the set was not tough. “We found several old Brillié clocks in an old company in the south of Paris, and our director, Laurent Pelly, told us about a watchmaker’s shop not far from the workshop where we were working on the first sketches of the set,” Ms. Ginet mentioned. “What he liked was the mess, the overflow of equipment and clocks of all kinds.”
Ms. Evrard added: “We wanted to have different styles, and a mix of old and new. It was a bit obsessive.”
Gathering props for the set, Ms. Ginet mentioned, “the funny thing is that we found clocks everywhere, including in Matsumoto, Japan, which has a magnificent clock museum.”
“We even found a Hello Kitty clock,” she mentioned.
The designers mentioned the cluttered set mirrored the theme of Ravel’s opera: Time can’t be managed, irrespective of what number of clocks you’ve.
“The opera is only one hour long, but the clocks are always running,” Ms. Evrard mentioned. “It’s about death and taking the time to enjoy life. There is this tension between desire and death. Death is very present in this piece.”
And demise looms massive for one Italian set designer, who used clocks in three productions previously yr.
“Clocks speak about time, but they are also a reflection of life because time is something you can’t stop,” Paolo Fantin mentioned in a video interview from Sydney, Australia, the place Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” was staged in July (the manufacturing is scheduled at La Fenice, in Venice, in November). “We wanted to put this ‘Hoffmann’ in three stages” of the character’s life, Mr. Fantin mentioned, “so we used clocks to chart his journey of self-discovery.”
In his design for Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” scheduled for Sept. 14 to Oct. 13 on the Paris Opera’s Palais Garnier (a manufacturing shared with the Royal Opera in London and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily), a clock hovers within the background through the first act. However because the plot — and the title character — evolves, the timepiece modifications.
“In this ‘Don Pasquale,’ there is a glass house where we can look inside, and in the first act there is a vintage grandfather clock,” Mr. Fantin mentioned. “He lives in this house full of vintage furniture. He’s nostalgic. He doesn’t want to throw anything away. He never grows up.”
However then the younger love curiosity, Norina, seems. “The home transforms into a modern one with designer clocks,” he mentioned. “These two worlds are fighting with each other. Norina wants a completely new house, so he throws away the grandfather clock.”
Mr. Fantin additionally designed a manufacturing of “Der Rosenkavalier” final yr for the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, a co-production with the Lithuanian Nationwide Opera in Vilnius, the place it’s to play a second time, in Might 2024.
The princess, whose title is Marschallin within the libretto, orders all of the clocks in her residence to be stopped. Mr. Fantin and the director determined that they may go additional.
“Strauss really speaks about time in this opera, and the Marschallin is remembering the past all the time,” he mentioned. “She tells the servants to bring her all of the clocks because she doesn’t want to see the passage of time. They bring her about 15 clocks, and she removes all of the hands. It’s a very powerful moment.”