Baroque Landscape is the Best Set Design (An interview with Vladimír Franz)

20.10.2013 18:45

You are the only Czech taking part in the international jury of the Prague Quadrennial; while in fact you work as a composer – not, as far as I know, as a set designer. I’m therefore quite interested in how you attained this particular role. 

It is not only music that I am concerned with, but also the visual arts. As a matter of fact I studied art history, among other things. When I ran my own theatre, I also created some set designs. Still, when I write music for a theatre piece, I would rather not do the scenography as well. In spite of this, I would naturally still have some visual concept of it. Another matter altogether is the fact that it is possible to switch between the dramatic sound-space and the dramatic visual space. So even if I am not directly involved in creating the set design, this does not mean I do not know what it involves. In 2001, for instance, I was the only European delegate at the USITT. I am a member of OISTAT, and take part in its conferences, and have also presented my views at the High Dramatic School in London, so my work does not fall completely outside of the field. And since I simply have a way of thinking in terms of both sound and spatial dramaturgy, it is not so difficult for me. 


So you can imagine yourself as a set designer? 

Indeed I can. So far as the visual arts are concerned, I would like to add that I also work as a curator of the international visual arts symposium entitled Velký format (Large Format), that takes place in the riding hall of the Valtice Chateau in Moravia. And so naturally I have to ask myself questions such as: What is large format? What is space? In what ways should one relate to space? How can you exhibit something so that it works at a “range” of 75 meters – the length of the Valtice Riding Hall? This too is a form of set design. A sense of space is actually really important, no matter whether it concerns musical or theatrical performance. Valtice makes you realize yet another thing: one of the most accomplished forms of set design is the Baroque approach to landscape design. Back then, they knew exactly where to place a small chapel, where to plant a large tree, what kind of leaves the tree would have, and so on. This was perfect set design, since every detail served the overall purpose. I have this constant fear that scenography will spread over into other areas that should by right be the domain of dance, or music, or something else. It is a kind of malady. If everybody just did what they ought to do, that would be for the best. 


Is there something in the area of set design that has recently captured your attention? 

At one point I was interested in the scenography of actual sets, and then I went through a period of action scenography – meaning that each object was named in some way through dramatic action, which gave it a role similar to what it would have in the theatre, which itself moved from a picturesque pietism towards a greater naturalism, so I guess the trend is returning in some sense. The thing is that each field, that felt the need to become a science during the 20th century, really should not become a science sui generis. One must be aware of the fact that scenography is an applied art, a service to theatre. It is about creating a space for dramatic action. 

I meant instead to inquire about some actual names. Have you recently been struck by some memorable achievements in this field? 
Most recently I really liked Jana Preková’s set design and costumes for Medea (a production by Věra Herajtová for the F. X. Šalda Theater in Liberec). Even in terms of Jana’s work, it had this peculiar richness and sense of color. I have to say that I also liked the sets and costumes for Goldilocks (a ballet staged at the National Theatre in Prague, with music by V. Franz) by Martin Černý, with costumes by Saša Grusková. That was truly a beautiful set. 

So you were happy with the Goldilocks production? 

I was extremely happy with it and I think that it was a lucky piece, though not appreciated by critics. Moreover, it was a necessary one, since there are few such productions accessible to both three year old children and theatre professionals. Moreover, it is in fact a classic, so the collaboration was really delightful. I was also not averse to Jan Dušek’s set design of Petr Zuska’s new ballet he did for the “chansons” (Sólo pro tři – Solo for Three, ballet at the National Theatre in Prague, May 2007). It’s kind of this lovely, mature and sober set, which so to speak does not try to “put its foot behind its neck” but instead just serves the purpose. As for foreign productions, I saw a video recording of Rameau’s opera Chetelet, directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi - and that was gorgeous. The production clearly showed that everything must serve a function, and nothing is obsolete. He used elements ranging from the Baroque down to hip-hop, and everything was functional and beautiful. 

And what are your future theatre plans? If I am not mistaken you tend to devote yourself to the visual arts during the summer… 

That is true, and I am deeply into painting, but in fact yesterday I just happened to finish a very opulent draft for Emperor Paul I by Dmitry Merezhkovsky. This play had not been staged in our country until the present production by Hana Burešová at the Municipal Theatre in Brno, as a part of a kind of cycle we created including Devotion to the Cross and Amphitryon. I won the Alfréd Radok Prize for Theatre for both of these productions, so perhaps I will be lucky for a third time. I think it could be a nice show. It will open at the beginning of September, and I am really looking forward to it. Next week I have to record the music for a film, and I have also just finished a prelude for the Brno Philharmonic orchestra that will be performed during a festival in Znojmo. I will also write music for a science fiction film, and only then will I have time to devote myself to painting, and get ready for the Jizerské Mountains in August – for the free composition of a choir workshop in Liberec. I will have time to ruminate on my 2nd Symphony, commissioned by the Brno Philharmonic, and I will also work on a cycle of choral compositions based on the Czech folk tales, as well as working on my opera of The War with the Newts for the National Theatre – among other things. 


Among all this work, how do you find time for PQ? 

It is very simple. Nobody is breathing down your back. I am only interested in the final product. It is probably more important to see the exhibition many times. As in a gallery, I could not sit in front of a painting for five hours, but instead prefer to see it a number of times for a short period. 


Are you going to take part in the accompanying program – the live performances or lectures? 

I will see what I have time for. I am aware of the accompanying program, so of course I am curious about it.

Markéta Dolníčková, pq today, 14.-24. června 2007 / June 14 - 24, 2007