Backstage at San Francisco Opera > March 2012 > Thoughts on Designing Magic Flute
Thoughts on Designing Magic Flute
Jun Kaneko, renowned Japanese-American visual artist, is the Production Designer for our new production of The Magic Flute, opening June 13, 2012. His ceramic, bronze, and glass sculptural work and two-dimensional artwork appears in numerous international solo and group exhibitions annually and is included in approximately fifty museum collections. He has realized almost thirty public art commissions in the United States and Japan. His previous opera productions were Madama Butterfly for Opera Omaha (2007) and Fidelio for the Opera Company of Philadelphia (2008).

For me, developing an opera design starts simply by listening to the music until a visual image begins in my mind. This process usually takes two to three months of immersing myself in the opera by listening to it 200 to 300 times.

The key to conceptualizing a successful opera design is to have a flexible and open mind and to listen to the music without any preconceived ideas. Sometimes not knowing gives us great mental freedom and opens our imagination. It is like being in a heavy fog, knowing something great is beyond it and, as it starts clearing, patiently seeing fantastic possibilities reveal themselves. My goal is to extract a design that emerges from the essence of the music rather than to decorate its story.

In my studio work I am always aware that nothing exists by itself. Pattern and composition are born out of the relationships between different elements of the artwork and emerge from conversations between myself, the materials and my mark making. Much of my studio work applies itself to issues of scale and the perspectives of the moving viewer with relation to the piece. It is essential to develop the most positive spatial attitude between the artwork, environment and viewer. I try to change the space so a binding relationship unites the concepts of the artwork with the surrounding nature, architecture, and viewer’s experience. [Above: Costume sketch for the Queen of the Night]

To me, opera is music and stands alone as such. The stage, costume and lighting design are supporting elements and visual expressions. This approach presents important and fundamental conceptual design issues. The design I create needs to integrate with the music naturally and spontaneously so we feel the music and design as one unified expression rather than experiencing the music and stage production moving parallel as an opera. [Left: Jun Kaneko in his studio]

Integrating all of the synchronous connecting elements in an opera is the most difficult challenge in its design. My challenge is to find a way to shrink the distance between the music and the visual elements and to conceive visuals that fuse the music and design as one experience.

Posted: 3/6/2012 10:20:00 AM by Jun Kaneko (Production Designer, The Magic Flute)
Filed under: costumes, design, JunKaneko, Mozart, production, TheMagicFlute, visual-artist


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


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