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  • The successful opera production Don Carlo by Verdi, is back on the boards at the Music theatre in Amsterdam right now.

    The original Dutch Opera production (De Nederlandse Opera) of 2004 was commissioned to commemorate the termination of Riccardo Chailly’s long engagement as chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

    The artistic team of Willy Decker and Wolfgang Gussmann were responsible the sensational direction and scenography, not forgetting of course Chailly’s wonderful interpretation of Verdi’s dramatic music.

    Back when we were building the original production, we at the scenery workshops were faced with a great challenge. Gussmann, the stage designer, had created the concept of an enormous crucifix as symbol for the power and domination of the Catholic Church in Spain as portrayed in the opera.

    We had to sculpt the legs of the crucified Christ which were to be 6.5 metres ( over 20 feet) high. To guide our way, my colleague Peter and I, had a couple of poor photos provided by the designer, and a small crucifix similar to the one which hung in the classroom of my school when I was a boy back in Ireland.

    I have often thought that Catholic church imagery has played an important role in my later becoming a sculptor and painter. Even before my Holy Communion at age seven I knew every sinew of flesh and fold of fabric of the crucified Christ, Virgin Mary, apostles and saints , whose polychromatic sculpted images gazed benevolently upon the congregation from their sumptuously carved pedestals.

    Back at the workshops we were making great progress ( Peter also had a Catholic upbringing in Limburg, in the south of Holland). Only we were having problems with the feet. I felt they were too bland and didn’t express enough the pain of a crucifixion. So I said to Peter to leave it with me and I would work on it.

    It was in the middle of summer and quite warm, so I stripped off my work boots and socks and continued to model Christ’s feet to the likeness of my own feet, complete with tendons, sinews and protruding blood vessels.

    It worked. And it’s funny seeing the production now knowing that Christ’s crucified feet were created in my image.

    for a short intro film about Don Carlo see:
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