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January 10, 2017

Operation Don Giovanni

Fornasetti and Romeo Gigli recreate the original performance in Prague of the ‘Don Giovanni’ by Mozart at the Pergola Theatre

Barnaba Fornasetti has been running the Italian decorative arts company founded by his father Piero since 1988. For years, he worked as designer in the real-estate restructuring business in Tuscany and there was a time when he was about to buy a castle in Larderello, the place known for its boric-acid fumaroles. It had been designed by the French architect who had worked on the local ENEL geothermal power station.
A cultivated, versatile and incredibly inquisitive man, Barnaba decided to stage the first Fornasetti opera production, Don Giovanni by Mozart, which debuted at Milan’s Teatro della Triennale and will be performed at Florence’s Pergola Theatre on January 10, 12 and 13. A grand and exciting event that Pitti Immagine Uomo happily added to its events program. By presenting the opera 230 years after it was first performed, Fornasetti’s production aims to recreate the original music composed by Mozart through the use of historic instruments and the original score. Fornasetti is responsible for set design, costumes design is by Romeo Gigli, and music direction by Simone Toni with the Silente Venti! Orchestra.

How did you come up with the idea of this production?
I believe that Fornasetti’s decorative style can be applied to fields other than design, including theatre, and opera production seems particularly congenial to us. With Da Ponte’s libretto in mind, we researched into the Fornasetti archives for a long time to find the key to a more modern version of it, and I have to admit that Simone Toni’s passion was highly contagious.

Can you reveal something about the set design?
The themes range from cards to the metaphysical room, to our signature female faces which relate wonderfully to the opera’s core theme.

While you were working on this opera production, what elements of the Don Giovanni captured your imagination and attention?
The myth has not lost any of its splendour over time. Don Juan embodies the attraction to both love and death. But what I find really interesting about the opera is how little it takes to make it different and contemporary. I wonder why we hadn’t realized it before.

What are the most recurring visual elements of the Fornasetti world?
The immense archives of single objects designed by my father include over 13,000 variations. Among his themes, the most recurring ones are the sun, cards, Harlequin, hands, self-portraits. But the most famous theme is the one that inspired Fornasetti’s “Theme and Variations” series: the enigmatic female face, the female traits and the enigmatic expression of opera singer Lina Cavalieri, which has become an icon and which Piero went back to over and over during his artistic career.

How did the collaboration with Romeo Gigli on costume design work out?
Of course, we made all choices regarding the set design together and Romeo’s experience speaks for itself, I have never had any doubt about his costumes design. At the theatre, all elements need to come together to create the magic.

This operation required bringing together a famous design and decor brand, opera music, philological research into the original performance, fashion meant as both the designer who designed the costumes and the Pitti Uomo event. What are the pros and cons of such a complex joining of forces?
One of the most positive aspects is the chance to reach out to an audience that goes beyond opera music lovers. It is a great help for the general public listening to opera music for the first time. As for the cons, I don’t really care, because they have to do with the rampant banality of our times, against which we fight. “Purist” opera fans may probably not consider our production to be “opera”, which is quite questionable, but it’s all part of the game.

The opera will be staged at the Pergola Theatre, the symbol of melodrama, where The Marriage of Figaro was premiered in 1788, when Mozart was still alive. How does this coincidence make you feel?
It makes us feel all very motivated, especially Simone Toni. It’s that magic feeling that stimulates our maestro’s sensitivity.

What, in your opinion, explains the charm of this old theatre?
The patina of time, which is crucial to the preservation of old buildings. It has been well-preserved in this theatre. The theatre has not undergone invasive works and, to me, it is a gem where you can still feel the presence of all the great men and women who performed there.  

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