August 18, 2022

Designing Ernani: A conversation with Scott Marr

For set and costume designer Scott Marr, Ernani marks the end of an era. Having worked at Lyric since 1990 — beginning as an intern and working his way up to Wardrobe, Wigs, and Makeup Director — Marr will retire on opening night of the 2022/23 Season. In his most recent role, he manages the budgets, vendors, and wardrobe/wig department staffing for each Lyric production. Before he was ever exposed to the world of scenic and costume design, Marr was drawn to the fine arts. "Everything is influenced by the other," said Marr. "I was trained to paint as a scenic artist, so those techniques influence my paintings as a fine artist." Marr's skills with a paintbrush are evident from the moment the curtain rises on Ernani. Just one of the additions made since the production premiered in Lyric's 2009/10 Season, the first scene now features a new drop. The large, painted canvas fills the stage at a staggering 56 feet wide by 65 feet tall.

The newly painted drop, showing a forest in the mountains of Aragon, used in the opening of Verdi's Ernani.

"Verdi set Ernani in the year 1519. I was intrigued by that time period both in terms of architecture and fashion of the time," said Marr. Influenced by Moorish designs in Spain, the scenic elements of the production all come from historical architectural research. "While the 16th century setting and story certainly lend themselves to operatic opulence, but to merely design with that as a main focus is not something that is on my mind while creating."

The interior of Silva's castle, as seen in Act Two of Verdi's Ernani.

Having worked with director Louisa Muller on many occasions, Marr was excited to partner with her in re-imagining Verdi's first major hit. "It is not often a designer has the opportunity to rediscover or rework something that they created 12 years ago." The creative team re-arranged scenic elements, added new pieces, and have brought an entirely fresh perspective to the production. "There must be a good connection with the director and collaborative energy together in the exchanging of ideas. One has to allow there to be an openness for the design to evolve as you problem solve," said Marr. "Sometimes overcoming challenges can give way to some extraordinary moments, visually."

Ernani's creative and technical team work out all of the kinks during summer tech.

As a designer, a clear understanding of the story is imperative. Long before any costumes are sewn or sets are constructed, research is key. It's not only knowing the physical and budgetary parameters of a production, but familiarizing yourself with the arc of the music and the cast that has been assembled. As a story unfolds, it's important to let the music and drama inform how one scene might transition into the next. "The advantage of being both scenic and costume designer is being able to think about the singer in the to feature them within the framework of the set – how they might move in it." Because the principal cast is entirely new to the production, Marr specifically designed new looks for each artist. "You must know who your cast is and think about what looks and colors might be good on them – not just costume them as you might perceive their characters to be." Inspired by 16th century painters like El Greco, Titian, Fontana, Velazquez, and Bronzino, Marr considers each costume a work of art. Whether for a principal artist, chorus member, actor, or super, Marr spent hours hunting down the perfect fabrics, trims, buttons, and accessories. "Not to mention," he continued, "the time and labor that has gone into each individual piece in terms of construction, fittings, and dyeing or painting."

Costumes for Russell Thomas/Ernani, backstage during tech week.

"Most importantly," said Marr, "the scenic and costume elements need to be as evocative as the music; the amazing voices of the principal artists and chorus. My hope would be that the combination of all the elements together will engage, intrigue, and captivate the audience." We're sure they will. See Scott Marr's designs come to life in Verdi's Ernani, onstage September 9 through October 1.

September 9 - October 1, 2022



The 2022/23 Season opens with a thrilling continuation of Lyric's acclaimed early Verdi series. Ernani reveals Verdi at his most irresistibly melodic and dramatic. A persecuted nobleman forced to disguise himself as an outlaw, Ernani loves beautiful Elvira, but she's pursued by two other men — her uncle, Silva, and the King of Spain, Carlo. This "love quadrangle" inspires grand-scale arias and ensembles, bursting with the unique energy and drive that were Verdi's own. Music Director Enrique Mazzola leads a quartet of world-renowned Verdians in Lyric's sumptuously beautiful production that is designed to bring you an exhilarating operatic experience.