Music, Stage

Gabriela Tylesova, Simon Phillips and the Turk in Italy

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Gabriela Tylesova and Simon Phillips have one of the most successful designer-director relationships Australian theatre has ever seen. Phillips chose Tylesova straight out of NIDA to design his 2001 production of Elixir of Love, and ever since then their collaborations have been winning them critical praise and awards.
Perhaps most notably, they made the Australian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel Love Never Dies a success, despite its critical and commercial failure in London. Lloyd Webber was famously so enamoured with the production he said it was one of only three productions of his work he’s ever been completely happy with.
“Simon and I were in a café the other day, just talking about how we worked together, and we both laughed because it’s something you can’t describe very well,” Tylesova says. “We both get in the same head space and we both throw ideas in. We always take words from each other’s mouth. It’s pretty rare, I suppose.”
This week, Tylesova won two Sydney Theatre Awards for her costume and set design for Sydney Theatre Company’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. But she was, unfortunately, unable to attend.
“It seems to be my destiny that I never make it to awards ceremonies,” she says. “It’s just become a bit of a joke now.”
Tylesova was busy at the final dress rehearsal for her latest Phillips collaboration, Opera Australia’s production of Rossini’s The Turk in Italy.
The opera is rarely seen in Australia (the last time was 1974), which means that Phillips and Tylesova have complete artistic freedom in their approach; almost nobody is going to come to the piece with expectations of what they’ll see. In the same comedic vein as Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, the plot is full of love triangles, mistaken identities and twists.
Tylesova found out that she would be designing the opera during a chance conversation with Opera Australia artistic director Lyndon Terracini at a party. She hadn’t signed on the dotted line at that point, but it seems Phillips had insisted Tylesova would design.
“I didn’t know what he was talking about, because I didn’t know the show or anything about it. Then I spoke to Simon and he told me that they wanted us to do the show.”
Tylesova and Phillips have maintained the Italian seaside setting of the original, but updated it to the 1950s. That means glamorous swimwear, structured bodices and a bold, bright colour scheme.
To capture the feel of the period, Tylesova designed unique fabric prints for each swimming costume.
“I’ve done a few shows in 50s style,” she says. “But I haven’t done 50s bathing suits, which is quite particular. I was researching those for quite a while. I’ve been looking at lots of op-shops and they have a lot of 50s numbers in the windows.”
For the set, Tylesova uses a double revolve to shift the action between the various settings, and provide onstage action to keep up with the pace of the opera. It moves from a beach, to an inn to a decadent ballroom.
The design process for The Turk in Italy has been relatively smooth. Over the years, Phillips and Tylesova have developed a clear work pattern that’s served them well.
“We usually have a session – the initial one where we just conjure the essence of what we want to do. We’re both very clear where it’s heading,” Tylesova says. “Then the next meeting is me cutting pieces of cardboard and putting them in the model, looking at the shapes and how they’re evolving. The initial idea always leads through.
“If there are budget constraints, which there usually are, then it gets harder. We have to think about how we trim it down but still keep the essence of what we were both excited about, but that’s the nature of any project.”
[box]The Turk in Italy is at the Sydney Opera House from 22 January to 12 February. Tickets are available at
All images by Lisa Tomasetti.[/box]

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