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BD: Architect designs set for opera in former gulag

UK-based architect Charlotte Skene Catling has collaborated with director Michael Hunt to design the set for the staging of Beethoven's opera, Fidelio, in the remains of the last functioning Gulag in Russia.

The production at Perm 36, on the Siberian border, will be performed by the Perm State P Tchaikovsky Opera & Ballet Theatre.

Skene Catling, co-founder of Skene Catling de la Peña, has designed a site-specific set using the existing structures at the Gulag, which was shut down by Gorbachev in 1988 and is now a designated World Heritage Site. 

250 audience members will be brought to the site as if they were new arrivals at a Gulag, echoing the number of prisoners originally housed in each of the camp's barracks buildings.

Singers, orchestra members and more than 400 extras will lead them through a series of interventions crossing through the eras, from the 18th century origins of Beethoven's piece about a woman who rescues her husband from death in a political prison, to Guantanamo Bay.

"The context of the camp is almost sacred space. This had to be addressed in the design," said Skene Catling. "The ‘sets' are devices that frame elements of the existing context. They are also completely legible as interventions in the space and do not try to disguise themselves as extensions of the existing structures. The historical structures are the context which have the brooding presence of silent witnesses." 

Performances of the opera at Perm 36 will begin in July, with Gobachev due to attend the opening night performance.