Reflecting on an Australian First

JSvobodaFor the first time in Australia, audiences can experience the artistry of Josef Svoboda, the 20th century’s most influential and prolific scenographer, and a legend in the world of design.

This May, Victorian Opera presents the national premiere of the ‘Traviata of the Mirrors’ from Italian opera house Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini, featuring scenic design by Svoboda, whose work has before never been seen in Australia.

La traviata features an enormous mirror suspended above the stage, which Victorian Opera’s Artistic Director Richard Mills says helps to convey composer Giuseppe Verdi’s original intentions.

“The scenic artist is literally holding a mirror up to society’s hypocrisy, bringing the audience into the world of courtesan Violetta Valéry and inviting them to reflect on their own stories of love and loss,” says Mills.

Josef Svoboda died in 2002 at 81 years of age, having worked on over 700 stage productions and collaborated with renowned directors including Milos Forman on the film, Amadeus and Laurence Olivier on the Chekov play, Three Sisters.

The New York Times described him as a designer ‘who combined an architect’s precision, a technician’s ingenuity and an artist’s vision’ while The London Times credited him as the ‘greatest scenic designer in the world’.

“According to his biographer, Jarka M. Burian, Svoboda once likened scenic design to an orchestra, in that sometimes it is silent and sometimes it is the most important part of the ‘visual symphony’,” said Mills.

Although some of his work was quite minimalist, Svoboda came to be known as an innovator in his use of video, projection and light – so much so that he invented a new high intensity stage light, the ‘Svoboda’. His interest in the properties of projection extended to the use of large scale reflections, the most notable example of which is the ‘Traviata of the Mirrors’.

Victorian Opera’s season of La traviata is presented in association with Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from 17 – 29 May 2014. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: courtesy of Fondazione Pergolesi Spontini, © Binci