"It's quite different from last year when Kate and Laura designed these elaborate fantasy clothes," Alden said at a Mid-City rehearsal space across from a Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles. "There was some question if some of the staging would have to be modified — especially for the women — in those modern clothes."
Likewise, Gehry's abstract stagecraft last year suggested little of 17th century Seville, where "Don Giovanni" is set. Composed of gargantuan mounds of ruffled paper interspersed with giant white cubes and stairwell risers — a craggy, iceberg-like tableau — the sets served as a theoretical realm, a dream-like counterpoint to the opera's action.
"From a visual standpoint," Smith explained, "he was creating a landscape of Don Giovanni's mind."
Nouvel's connection to the cultural realm is well established, with the Copenhagen Concert Hall, Lyon's Opéra Nouvel and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis helping him clinch the Pritzker Prize, architecture's top award, in 2008.
Unlike the "Don Giovanni" production, which placed musicians in bleachers behind the proscenium (creating certain logistical headaches for Dudamel's musical direction at the time), Nouvel's mise-en-scène situates the orchestra in a cut-out pit in front of a slanting stage — a crimson plain covered with a receding grid of painted lines.
The stage leads up to an imposingly vertical, four-tiered riser structure where performers await their cues (in the absence of off-stage theater wings) also coated in shades of vermilion — a nod to "Figaro's" Andalusian setting.
"In comparison with a traditional opera house and stage, you have a very short distance here," Nouvel said at Disney Hall this week. "So I played with the slopes and perspective to create a feeling of a larger space."
Foremost in Nouvel's estimation, however, was paying homage to revolutionary French satirist Pierre Beaumarchais' play "Le Mariage de Figaro," on which Mozart's "Figaro" is based, while highlighting the opera's modernity.
"The idea was not to create a perfect re-situation of the epoch," Nouvel said in halting English. "The text is modern. The woman condition, the question about sexual harassment, the relationship of Figaro with authority: It all makes sense today. We tried to create something without the dust of traditions."
"And an architect like me is trying to create poetry at the same time," the architect added, his eyes twinkling. "It's like doing music with images and light."
The philharmonic's ambitious Mozart / Da Ponte trilogy began humbly enough in 2008, originally brainstormed by Dudamel — in conversation with Smith and philharmonic Chief Executive Deborah Borda in a Berlin Starbucks — as an excursion into opera with a strong visual tie-in. Longtime philharmonic patron Gehry was a natural first stop, and Dudamel's wife, Eloísa Maturén, proposed enlisting fashion talent.
Through Gehry's introductions and outreach, the new opera template has flourished. And on Wednesday, the architect was among those in attendance at an invitation-only dress rehearsal where he watched the production's first full run-through with apparent pride.
According to Dudamel, performing opera — specifically, Mozart's — has fundamentally altered the philharmonic's M.O. by helping the musicians develop nimbleness and refine technique through the interplay with operatic singers.
"It's a completely different orchestra than last year when we were doing 'Don Giovanni,'" Dudamel said at a Hollywood Bowl event earlier this month. "You have to think a lot to play Mozart. Combine that with the sensibility of the singing — when you are listening to a singer and you are trying to imitate that voice in the instruments — and the teamwork, it's this perfect interaction between every element. It's another idea of sound."
In June, just days after "Figaro" wraps at Disney Hall, Dudamel and the philharmonic's top creative brass will head to London to begin brainstorming the third and final opera in the trilogy, "Così fan tutte." Another Pritzker-winning Gehry confrere, the Iraqi British architect Zaha Hadid, has been brought in for set duty. And avant-garde fashion designer Hussein Chalayan will take up where Alaïa left off, creating costumes for the performers.
For all the complexity of mounting "Figaro" — with an overture that's been heard in TV commercials, cartoons and movies too numerous to tally — the project's aim is simple enough: to make everything old new again.
"People have heard this opera a million times," said Borda. "To create a freshness around it, a sense of wonder and awe: That's what we hope this combination will bring. We strive to push the boundaries and inhabit the 21st century."
'The Marriage of Figaro'
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, downtown Los Angeles
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. May 23 and 25
Information: (323) 850-2000 or http://www.laphil.com