How does the book, George Tsypin Opera Factory: Building In The Black Void, published about your work by Princeton Architectural Press in October of 2005, illustrate your career to date?
The book was conceived as an exploration of the connection between set design and architecture. I included the work that relates to my sculpture, as well. I mostly focused on opera and large-scale productions, and I excluded theatre designs. The book, I think, reflects what I am striving for in my designs; it captures the movement toward something transcendent that is maybe ultimately unattainable. But I think it leaves that possibility open. There is something unfinished and dynamic about the work. It leaves a lot of doors open.
Besides showcasing the work, the book is really contemplation about the creation and designing of opera, the nature of theatre, and the role that space, time, and intuition play in that process. My hope is that sometime, somewhere, some young and talented person will read the book and will be inspired.
What was the biggest challenge you ever faced on a design project?
The biggest challenge is always to come up with something new and interesting. People complain about the difficulty of working in the theatre: lack of money, organization, producers, and so on. The real problem is within. It's the creative problem; it's the problem of ideas. But then, of course, even if you came up with a brilliant idea, it's just the beginning. One has to overcome an enormous resistance, inertia of huge organizations, and of a lot of people. The problem is that you are the only one who has that vision inside your head, and you have to move the mountain to realize that vision. But the goal is not just to impose your vision, but to inspire people. I try to create that synergy where a lot of talented people open up and begin to work toward a common goal. Very often, it becomes a very messy, unpredictable process, but the result is always more interesting and organic.
Do you think that video and other projections are taking a more major role in the area of scenic design?
Projections are important but ultimately play a secondary role. We go to the theatre to see real people in real space. Otherwise, you can stay home and watch TV or stare at your computer — both projections on the flat screen. The problem is that I've never seen an emotional connection between the person and the projection on stage. There is something alienating about the medium. However, as an additional texture, as part of something more dimensional, it can be a great device. I have a vision of how to create a completely three-dimensional projection, but I never really had a chance to try it. I believe the nature of the theatre is such that nothing should be excluded. I don't care what you use — projections, a bomb, or maybe you manage to put the real moon on stage — it's the emotional impact that is important.
What projects are you working on now?
I am doing four new operas right now: Adriana Mater by Kaija Saariaho at the Bastille in Paris; Grendel by Julie Taymor and Elliot Goldenthal in Los Angeles; a “new” opera by Mozart called Zaid in Vienna, an unfinished piece that was never staged before, directed by Peter Sellars; and Flowering Tree, a new opera by John Adams. Mazeppa by Tchaikovsky will open at the Met in March; Salome in Chicago in the fall, and La Juive in Paris early next year. Most of my time though is devoted to Little Mermaid for Disney.
What technology can you absolutely not live without?
Technology is important for the realization of the sets. For example, Russian constructivists, whom I admire so much, could not realize their sets because the technology was so primitive. I can do so much more nowadays. Nothing should be excluded from the design process. If, in order to realize a curtain idea, you need the most powerful computer in the world, go for it, as long as the real soul of what you are looking for is not lost in the process. Technology, as a design tool, can become an impediment. People sometimes go for the simple solution of downloading something from the Internet, altering it on Photoshop, or just cutting up a bunch of color Xeroxes. The real visceral search for the visual world of the show gives way to purely technical device. I think if the theatre artist would spend considerable time in the woods or in the mountains collecting stones, for example, one would come up with much more breathtaking design.