Setting the stage: Leslie Frankish takes Falstaff to Olympic Proportions

Highly sought after designer helps Pacific Opera Victoria bring its 100th production to life

Designer Leslie Frankish shows off the maquette for the upcoming Pacific Opera Victoria production of Falstaff

Pacific Opera Victoria is going to Olympic proportions for the first opera of its 2013-14 season.

Not only is POV celebrating its 100th production and Giuseppe Verdi’s bicentennial with his great comedy Falstaff — based on the works of William Shakespeare — but they’ve hired freelance designer Leslie Frankish to bring the world of the Merry Wives of Windsor to life.

Frankish is a highly sought-after theatre and opera designer whose claim to fame is the role of senior production designer for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Remember the giant beaver. “That was me,” says Frankish.

With a degree in architecture from the University of Manitoba, training in theatre craft and design from the Banff Centre for the Arts, and decades of experience designing for theatre and opera (Shaw Festival, Citadel Theatre, National Arts Centre, Vancouver Playhouse and more) Frankish made her debut with POV in 2001 with The Taming of the Shrew.

Now, Frankish is gearing up for her eighth POV production, and she’s up for the challenge that Verdi’s Falstaff presents to even an experienced designer.

“One real challenge is the transition times,” says Frankish. “You can’t abandon the music.”

Verdi’s unrelenting writing makes for almost no incidental music between scenes, Frankish needed to be creative about how to move from location to location — and there are multiple locations in Falstaff: The Garter Inn, Ford’s garden, Ford’s house and a moonlit forest in Windsor Park.

“There are multiple locations, and we can’t just push a button and have a new set come on stage,” says director Glynis Leyshon. “Leslie is very good at working within those confines, accepting them and saying ‘this is what were doing, where we’re doing it, and how we’ll make it work.”

Leyshon and Frankish have worked together on a number of productions. “Leslie and I first met at Shaw Festival,” says Leyshon. “From our first collaboration, I’ve loved her incredibly lively visual imagination.”

The two rendezvoused at Frankish’s cottage to conceptualize the design for Falstaff. They decided on Tudor architecture, based on the simple quatrefoil woodcuts. “It’s a very evocative icon of the Tudor age,” says Frankish.

The use of small set pieces and props in bright colours help to move the story from scene to scene, using quick changes by the chorus and a small stage crew.

The result is, well, you’ll have to wait until opening night to see. “We’re making magic here. We have our ways,” says Frankish.

Falstaff opens Thursday, Oct. 17 and runs at the Royal Theatre until Oct. 27. Tickets are available at rmts.bc.ca or 250-386-6121.

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