Fanciful scenic design by Anne Patterson will embellish the Seattle Symphony’s production of the rarely-seen short Ravel opera “L’enfant et les sortilèges.” Patterson is known for her installations in museums, cathedrals and other symphony spaces.

Share story

The Seattle Symphony will bring a rarely-staged magical opera to life with the help of set designs not usually seen in an orchestra hall and a large cast of performers.

In Maurice Ravel’s “L’enfant et les sortilèges” (“The Child and the Spells”), to be performed June 1 and 3, a boy destroys the objects in his room during a temper tantrum. His furniture, toys, animals and homework come to life and reprimand him.

Painter, sculptor and theater designer Anne Patterson will visualize this whimsical environment on the symphony stage using light projections, satin ribbons hanging over the orchestra and giant head sculptures for the vocal soloists.

CONCERT PREVIEW

Seattle Symphony: Ravel’s ‘L’enfant et les sortilèges’ (‘The Child and the Spells’)

With Ludovic Morlot, conducting, pianist Jan Lisiecki, Seattle Symphony Chorale,Northwest Boychoir and eight guest vocalists. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday (June 1, 3), Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $22 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).

Patterson has designed sets for the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater, as well as installations and direction for the San Francisco, Atlanta and Philadelphia orchestras.

Since the opera comprises more than 20 characters, Patterson thought visual representations of each one would help the audience follow the French-language work. The solution was to design large white-paper headgear for each vocalist. Characters include a cat, a teacup, a dragonfly, and a chorus of numbers.

“It’s very elegant and fairy tale-like, and a little bit magical,” Patterson said. “It almost feels like a book coming to life because of the paper.”

Patterson has synesthesia — a condition in which music triggers not just sounds in her brain, but she also sees music as colors and shapes as she listens. (Other famous synesthetes: Mary J. Blige, Leonard Bernstein and Jean Sibelius.)

After listening to the music and reading about the story, she decided that white was the best color for the show.

“There’s something very pure about the music, so I think that’s where I got the idea of using white,” she said. “There’s so much happening, musically and storywise, it felt like it needed a palate-cleanser.”

But the show won’t be completely without color. The projections, designed by Adam Larsen, will add bursts of color to the white and silver ribbons suspended from the ceiling. The second part of the story, which is set outdoors, will have a green backdrop.

Much of Patterson’s recent work has been in museums and cathedrals. She said working in Benaroya Hall challenged her and the other designers to visualize an opera in a nontraditional way. Some vocalists will stand in balconies, while others will walk through the orchestra.

“We’re really using the hall in a different way,” she said. “I think it’s going to make the whole thing more lively and more fun.”

Patterson described Ravel’s opera as a combination of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” and predicted that audiences will enjoy the symphony’s semi-staged production.

“Being able to create these visual responses to music is really thrilling,” Patterson said. “My goal is to take people on a musical and visual journey.”