Xerxes: Lights, Costumes, Set

By Nicole Towne, SMTD Publicity Intern

On Oct. 26 Colorado State University’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance will premier the Opera Xerxes, written by George Fideric Handel. The opera, presented by the Ralph Opera Program at CSU and directed by Voice Professor John Pierce, tells a multifaceted love story rooted in power, pride, and self-image. The sixteenth century opera, which originally takes place in Persia, is getting a multi-century update and will be set in the 1960s at a factitious ivy league university.

Set designer for the show, Zhanna Gurvich proposed the setting for the opera.

“Reading the libretto, the story, and this macho ‘I’m the best’ kind of thing Xerxes has going on made me think of football players and the big egos that sometimes go with that,” Gurvich said. “It seemed like it would be more fun to watch if it was set in something a little more contemporary and a little more relatable to the audience.”

Costume Designer Maile Speetjens suggested the sixties time era.

By setting it in the sixties, Speetjens is able to utilize the emerging trends of the time and speak to a unique and specific era.

Due to the shift in time and scene, the play has allowed room for imagination.

“One of the fun things I think for all of us is getting to put together a fictional college,” Speetjens said. “Zhanna’s assistant got to draw the school mascot, which is a manticore (a mythical Persian creature).

Speetjens was able to pick the school colors: red, white, and black. She has been working to outfit some cast members in football apparel. For this show, it is also her job to outfit the orchestra.

Unlike many past opera productions, the orchestra will be on stage for the show instead of in the pit below and in front of the stage. The orchestra will essentially function as the university’s marching band and will be dressed in red, white, and black uniforms.

Gurvich said the set will contain a stadium exterior with a courtyard and a grassy banner above the stadium marking the 50-yard line.

Technical theatre senior Judith Franco is designing the lights for the performance. She was given the option to pick a show to create lighting designs for and she chose Xerxes.

“I’ve been working a lot in the dance studio…but I wanted to do something new and different, and I liked all the operas in the past so I thought ‘hey let me go in there and see what I can do there,” Franco said. “I really liked reading the libretto for this.”

The majority of Franco’s work begins once the set is installed.

Franco said that this show will utilize a significant amount of side lighting to bring out the characters and the various arches in the set.

“I’m keeping (the lighting) a little warmer because most of the action happens during the daytime,” Franco said. “I’m trying to keep within the sixties (theme), so making it a little more florescent than usual.”

Franco said designing the lighting for this show has been a good challenge, and it has allowed her to use various types of lighting to illuminate the performers.

CSU’s Ralph Opera Program production of Xerxes takes place on Oct. 26, 27 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 28 at 8 p.m.; and Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. All performances will take place in the Griffin Concert Hall located within the University Center for the Arts.

Ticket Information

Tickets for the performance are no charge for Full-fee paying CSU students, $3 for youth (under 18), and $16 for seniors (62+), and $18 for adults. Tickets are available at the University Center for the Arts (UCA) ticket office in the UCA lobby Monday through Friday, 3:30-5:30 p.m. and 60 minutes prior to performances, by phone at (970) 491-ARTS (2787), or online at www.CSUArtsTickets.com.