A night out can influence a day’s work. Such was the case for the architecture and real-estate development firm DDG’s designer Michael Zaragoza. When he went to see a production by Apotheosis Opera, a fledgling New York company that aims to expand the medium’s reach, he thoroughly enjoyed the singing but found the sets inferior. So he brought the idea of pro bono assistance to the chairman of the affiliated DDG Foundation, who agreed to help with the next production.
Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West was to be staged at El Museo del Barrio. Before getting to work on the sets, Zaragoza studied the score, the libretto, and the plot, which centers on the experience of miners during the California gold rush. To evoke the idea of a transient existence, he made scaffolding materials the main elements. Raw birch plywood, used for tables and stools, was intended to echo the grit of the miners’ work. Act III takes place in a forest, often represented as lush and leafy. Instead, a single towering “tree” of stacked stumps symbolized the fragmented nature of homesickness.
Though the sets conjured feelings of longing, the opera posits that estrangement can be overcome by the expression of love for others. In this case, that is also the love of design.