Backstage

Imperial Tête-à-tête in La Clemenza di Tito

A production remembered — By Angelika Potier and Hébert Desormière

In his production of La Clemenza di Tito, Willy Decker focusses on “Titus the man, plunged in solitude, dying little by little as the soulless statue of the public figure, the hero, the emperor takes shape.” From the moment the curtain rises, a block of marble occupies the centre of the stage. The hero’s dramatic arc corresponds to the evolution of this block, from its raw initial state to the finished bust of Titus. An opportunity to explore the sculpture workshop of the Paris Opera: part of the technical department, it rubs shoulders with the other workshops: carpentry, painting, metalwork, upholstery and composite materials. Angelika Potier, head of department and Hebert Desormière, sculptor, describe the genesis of the four sculptures created for the production.   

Angelika Potier : We were very proud to see our creations back on stage for this sixth revival. I must say that the sculpture department did us proud! During the first production in 1997, the biggest challenge for us was reproducing the portrait. The bigger the portrait, the more afraid one is of making a mess of it.

Hebert Desormière : On the subject of the portrait, that of Titus was not our visual starting point. The decorator thought that Titus “didn’t look right for the job” and preferred the portrait of Julius Caesar with its piercing expression.

A.P. Our team at that time consisted of six sculptors to create both the model and the four blocks. This represented about five weeks’ work. It was from the initial model by John Macfarlane that our former head of the workshop created that of the face on which we worked. It was more detailed to make scaling it up easier. Each person was responsible for one stage in the process. The first virgin block, also known as the bloc capable, was realised by a former colleague, Charlie, who had a particular gift for creating the effect of different textures. Hebert made one of the two unfinished busts with the head emerging from the block, whereas I did the final bust of Titus, to which a plinth inscribed with his name was added.

H.D. : For the second unfinished bust, I adapted the steps, which had to be both practical and discrete, because the character, lying on top of the sculpture, has to descend gradually whilst singing. For all four blocks, we used polystyrene, unbeatable for it lightness and malleability. Before the sculptures went to the painting workshop, the composite materials workshop covered them with a fine layer of resin, about one millimetre thick. Being such a fragile material, polystyrene has to be covered with this resin to protect it from knocks.

A.P.: As a spectator, I have very pleasant memories of “La Clemenza”, which for me is pure opera – visually and musically coherent. Through the sculpting of a block, I witnessed the emergence of an emperor: the excess matter was pared away until the portrait of the hero was revealed.


Interviewed by Anna Schauder

Photos taken in the sculpture workshop for the production of La Clemenza di Tito, directed by Willy Decker.
Photos taken in the sculpture workshop for the production of La Clemenza di Tito, directed by Willy Decker. 7 images

Your reading: Imperial Tête-à-tête in La Clemenza di Tito