The Cunning Little Vixen La Monnaie

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lennygoran
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The Cunning Little Vixen La Monnaie

Post by lennygoran » Wed Mar 22, 2017 7:39 pm

I won't get a chance to attend this. Regards, Len

A Hat Designer for Rock Stars Turns to Opera

By HETTIE JUDAH MARCH 22, 2017


BRUSSELS — In the atrium outside a rehearsal space at La Monnaie opera house here recently, a rack of basketballs was stashed haphazardly beside a vending machine and a janitor’s cleaning cart. Each big item had been shrink-wrapped, alongside other community center clutter, all ready for transfer onstage as part of the set for a lively small-town retelling of Janacek’s vulpine tragicomedy, “The Cunning Little Vixen,” which runs through April 2.

If the setting is a departure from the libretto’s Mitteleuropean forest, the production is likewise a reinvention for its director, Christophe Coppens, who has taken 25 years to return to the stage. Now an artist living in Los Angeles, Mr. Coppens is still best known in his native Belgium as its most prominent milliner: the creator of hats to pop stars — the likes of Rihanna, Grace Jones and Roisin Murphy — and royalty.

During his studies in theater at the Royal Conservatory here in the early 1990s, Mr. Coppens was already making a name for himself as a director when his alternative career path quite unexpectedly presented itself.

“Suddenly, for one of the performances, I needed hats,” he recalled in an interview here. “So I learned to make hats, and three months later, those hats were in Paris Fashion Week.” He quit school, and within a year, his accessories were on sale in Japan and the United States.

Mr. Coppens’s business was growing when he bowed out five years ago. He had fresh investment, a new studio and a soon-to-open store in Paris, but the global squeeze was affecting him creatively. At their best, milliners evoke a realm of fantasy; the prevailing mood of conservatism in fashion and retail left him making bland headgear for society weddings to support his atelier. Mr. Coppens felt stretched thin.
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“Somebody in my close environment got a very bad cancer, and I just felt that if I continued, I would be next,” he said. “Or jump from a bridge, to be honest. I was in a very bad place.”


He filed for bankruptcy, a result of the credit crunch at the time, and in May 2012 sent a letter to the fashion industry at large, detailing the circumstances in candid terms. Moving to Los Angeles, he swapped his spacious Brussels studio for a windowless space in a one-car garage. Exhibitions followed — notably, a dark show called “50 Masks Made in America” at Please Do Not Enter’s occasional gallery — as did sculptural masks and stage props for Ms. Murphy, with whom he has long collaborated.

A few years ago, during a rare trip to Belgium, Mr. Coppens had coffee with Peter de Caluwe, the director of La Monnaie, and made clear his interest in designing for opera. In 2015 Mr. de Caluwe called on him for assistance when the costume designer dropped out of a production of Pascal Dusapin’s “To Be Sung”; working from his Los Angeles studio, Mr. Coppens drew replacement designs over a weekend. At a bar after the first fittings, Mr. de Caluwe asked if he’d consider directing again.

“It’s always a risk to engage people who are new to the business,” Mr. de Caluwe said. “But when it works, the rewards are amazing.”
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Mr. Coppens initially demurred. “The day after, I called him back,” he recalled, “and said: ‘I was wrong! I want to do it!’”

He fantasized about a grand production, he said, all “swishing skirts,” but Mr. de Caluwe instead proposed “Vixen,” a fantastical yet surprisingly realistic opera that follows a female fox caught between the world of the forest and that of human villagers. As a designer, Mr. Coppens had not shied from surreal zoological references. (His more extravagant creations had included a cape conceived as a bramble thicket, complete with a bird in flight, and another with a full-size doe sculpted along the shoulders.) But he had reservations about presenting Janacek’s work traditionally.

“I said, ‘Listen, I have a problem,’” he said. “‘I love this music, but I really don’t feel like doing jumping animals.’ I couldn’t relate to it.”

Reimagining “Vixen” under the new title “Foxie!,” Mr. Coppens instead took his cues from its casting. The younger performers who would usually inhabit elaborate creature costumes have been stripped of their masquerade as frogs or dragonflies and appear simply as adolescents. The mezzo-soprano role of Goldspur, the Vixen’s romantic interest, is played, true to casting, as a woman. In place of the side-by-side worlds of forest and village, animal and human, Mr. Coppens has instead presented a tale of intergenerational tension played out in a hangarlike village hall, complete with a cafeteria and decorative carnival floats that tease with flashes of forest décor.

Stepping into his own “third act,” Mr. Coppens seemed in his element.

“I have such a sorry excuse of a career, if I’m honest,” he said. “It’s all over the place. Now it all makes sense. This feels like the first time I can use all the different experiences and things I learned, and bring it all together.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/22/arts ... ctionfront

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