Sydney Opera House

Building La boheme

Months before opening night, the Opera Australia Workshop is hard at work.  Brian Thomson's set for La bohème is elaborate, and nothing is more splendid than Act II's Café Momus...

Strolling among the components of Brian Thomson’s set for Opera Australia’s new production of  La bohème, it is impossible to miss the five enormous “balcony” towers, painted a rich, deep red and decorated with carved, gold-leafed rosettes and garlands. They are to become the Café Momus, centrepiece of Act II.

Work on the towers began in November last year, four months after Thomson had presented his set model to the Company. Draughtsman David Spark provided drawings based on Thomson’s sketches, and from there it was up to Workshop to realise the vision.

OA scenery technicians (three steel fabricators and five scenic carpenters) used steel, plywood and canvas to create the looming structures, and Head of Props Mat Lawrence sculpted the decorative rosettes and garlands, which were then moulded and fibreglassed by props staff Carlos Johnson, Roswitha Adldinger and Jo-Anne Parkin. Scenic carpenters attached them to the towers. 

Next, the towers were pulled apart and moved upstairs to the paint floor, where scenic artists under direction of Angeline Drinan painted them red, gold leafed the decorative elements and 'distressed' or aged the final product.

An enormous domed ceiling is to be fitted on top of the soaring structure. But this part of the process can only happen when the set is bumped-in in Melbourne, days before opening night. Says Workshop Manager Duncan Stemler, with a smile: “That’s when you get the phone call that goes, ‘You know how the ceiling is meant to fit on top of the towers…?’”


The building of Act II has been documented in a special photo essay.  View photo gallery

Building Boheme img

View photo gallery

Listen to music from La Bohème

Find out more about the production