Designing Così fan tutte

19 April 2024

The last few performances of WNO’s Così fan tutte are fast approaching, but before we say goodbye to our fabulous new production we decided to catch up with the opera’s designer, Jemima Robinson, to learn some more about what it took to bring the classroom to the theatre.

How did you get into designing? Were there any particular moments that lit the fuse of inspiration?

When I was a little girl my mother took me to see an amateur production of South Pacific and I remember being totally blown away by the magic of theatre – I loved the energy of it all and I knew that I somehow wanted to be involved. At school my favourite subjects were Art, History, Music and English and theatre design combines them all. Later on, I joined the National Youth Theatre in their scenery and construction department which was a fabulous way to learn hands on about materials and the practical side of designing.

How do you approach designing for an opera from brief to finished product?

I start by listening to the opera, and sometimes I’ll paint or draw while I listen, using the different rhythms, tonality, moods of the music to guide me in creating colours and shapes. The libretto then helps me to unpick the different characters, so I become a sort of visual detective in uncovering what the characters say about each other and their relationships with each other. This all combined with research on the composer’s background and the piece’s history helps me to uncover the piece’s strong themes. I’ll then work with the director to incorporate their ideas – we’ll often bounce around some of the themes that are most important and work on the atmosphere we hope to create. 

Who and when was it decided to set Così fan tutte in a real-life school?

Max Hoehn (Director of Così fan tutte) knew from early on that he wanted to set the opera in a school, not only because the opera’s alternative title is The School for Lovers, but also because the couples’ dynamics felt young and less mature than those of adults. We bounced around some ideas about the possibilities of a school setting and it ended up providing us with plenty of playful and exciting elements. 

Have there been any particular challenges in bringing Così fan tutte to life?

This production of Così fan tutte was originally intended for a smaller touring production which was due to open in April 2020, which, of course, was postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. When we were given the go-ahead for a mainscale production it meant that we had to adapt the set to fit a full-sized opera house. In some ways, the new challenges were helpful and meant that we could explore the creative potential of the surreal elements of the opera including adding the blown-up collage pieces to the classroom, changing the dynamic and mood of the piece. 

What have been the most fun aspects of designing the set for the opera? 

I thoroughly enjoy working with Max – his approach to staging is so fun but always sensitive to the essence of each scene. Dressing the Chorus members was also a particular stand out as the moment when they put on their school uniform they transformed into boisterous children!


To see Jemima’s wonderful and cheeky designs on full display don’t miss your last few chances to see Così fan tutte performing in Bristol on 24 and 26 April, and in Birmingham on 10 May.