Lyric Opera of Kansas City's production of The Capulets and the Montagues (I Capuleti e i Montecchi) premieres later this month. It's the story of Romeo and Juliet, told by Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini.
Production designer Victoria (Vita) Tzykun was born in the Ukraine, but she was raised in Israel, where she and her family lived during the first Gulf War. She says she was able to draw from these experiences in creating sets and costumes for the Lyric's war-torn production.
"I wanted to make it very clear that the Capulets and the Montagues looked different. So that nobody will get confused [with] who is who," says Tzykun. "I wanted to keep the Montagues in blacks and leathers and metallics, silvers. And the Capulets are going to go much more in khaki, camo."
Interview Highlights: Production Designer Vita Tzykun
On the fragile love of Romeo and Juliet
I Capuleti e i Montecchi [The Capulets and the Montagues] is actually based on early Italian sources that Shakespeare then used to create his Romeo and Juliet. There is no balcony scene. It is not Romeo and Juliet; it was not written by Shakespeare. It's an early folk, Italian story that concentrates much more on the conflict than it concentrates on the love. Even Romeo and Juliet constantly fight, up until the very end where, on their deathbed, they find peace eventually.
On a story that stays relevant today
This production, I think, is as relevant as it can be for our time and the state that our world is in today. Because on of the main themes of this production is the struggle of the individual to have a normal life in the midst of a war zone, and how fragile individual lives are up against the merciless machine of war.
On experiencing real war
When I was 12, I was in the Gulf War in Israel, and I had to sit with a gas mask on. Everywhere we went we had to carry our gas masks with us: to the theater, to the ballet class, to school. And then, you would be in the midst of shopping in the supermarket and then you would hear the air siren, and you had to run and look for cover anywhere you could and hope that you're going to get to that cover before the rocket falls.
So war is quite different than what you see on television, then what your kids play on video games. It is very, very painful to everybody who are involved, not just the soldiers who go and fight.
On an inescapable tomb
I feel like in this particular production what we're trying to show is how fragile the love of Romeo and Juliet is up against the giant war conglomerate. That's why it was very important for me to create a set that is towering and huge and looks like a giant tomb almost, like a giant, marble tomb, in which they are encased. The height was very important because I wanted to make it look like a grand tomb that is inescapable and always show the presence of the other side up above, so they can't just escape.
On making the audience think
I think the most exciting thing to me about the world I created is that I hope that it's going to connect with the people who see it so much that it's going to make them think twice, and evaluate twice every time they need to vote on a decision, or form an opinion when they see something on television, or read something on the news.
I think our job as designers is, the main job is to make the audience feel and think and I think that this production will absolutely definitely do that.
Victoria Tzykun talks about her work, in conversation with the Lyric Opera's director Deborah Sandler, on Wednesday, September 11, 2013, at 7 p.m. at The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, 5801 W 115 Street, Leawood, Kan., 913-327-8000.
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City presents The Capulets and the Montagues (I Capuleti e i Montecchi), September 21- 29, 2013, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway, Kansas City, Missouri. 816-931-2232.