In designing the stage set, we did not focus on the potential historical analogy between the decline of ancient Rome and the rebirth of Italy as a nation, but rather on the theme of destruction as a prerequisite for renewal. In close alignment with Verdi, we chose two images that function in stark mutual contrast: the rubble and ruins of a devastated city in the prologue and an impenetrable forest in acts one, two, and three.
Both images rise vertically in front of the audience like three-dimensional pictures, whose depth is implicitly palpable but not really physically accessible. The singers and actors do not have much space at their disposal so that Pierre Audi’s production focuses primarily on the singing and underplays the theatrical gesture. Both sets could date from any historical epoch: they are contemporary, evoking pictures from the daily news or the Internet, but they are also reminiscent of times past, like pictures of archaeological excavations. Miuccia Prada, with whom we also worked on the stage set, has created similarly ambivalent costumes that cannot be ascribed to a specific epoch.
The lighting was not to resemble natural light but to appear technical and artificial as in a hospital, an explosion or light seen through the lens of a low-light camera in nocturnal military operations. Changes in lighting generate ambivalent moods, especially in the forest, which remains in place for two acts until the end of the opera. The effect may be of great beauty, but also eerie and inescapable, as it must have looked to Hansel and Gretel in the fairytale or, in the real world, to the Roman legionaries of old in the forests of Germania or the American troops in Vietnam.
Herzog & de Meuron, 2010