Thadeus Strassberger is a scenic designer and stage director for opera. He works with opera companies and musical directors to define the look and feel of a production, from costume and make-up to scenery, props and set changes. In a large production, he can be responsible for the stage direction of over a thousand cast members and crew.
Thaddeus is well-established and highly-regarded in his field, having staged productions at many of the world’s leading opera houses and worked with the genre’s best known stars - in particular the Scottish director Paul Curran and the singer Placido Domingo. Born in America and now based in London, he describes himself as a director without a home, with travel being a major part of his work.
Opera appealed to me as a young artist because it was a forum where I could have all these other extra people at my disposal. It’s also highly disposable. You create a moment but it doesn’t last forever. It’s kind of sad but also kind of beautiful.
Les Contes d'Hoffmann shown at Tiroler Landestheater, 2017
In 2014, Thaddeus’s Moscow production of Satyagraha - a production about Gandhi’s passive resistance movement - won a Golden Mask Award (the equivalent of the Oscars in opera).
Satyagraha, Ekaterinburg State Opera, 2014
I worked on this in the context of huge political upheaval in Russia and the Ukraine. It felt good to be involved in a more nuanced political dialogue and to know that I wasn’t just making pretty pictures. I don’t want to think of what I’m doing as corporate entertainment.
His current production, The Tales of Hoffman, will be staged at Innisbrook, Austria in September 2017. He says: “It’s a story about an artist who doesn’t find any inspiration, and keeps trying to create the most beautiful thing yet, he’s always searching for the muse, looking for love, but he doesn’t find it. The opera asks the question: is that sad or is it freedom? “
“When I moved to London I Googled ‘studio space’ and found Bow Arts. I like it here because it doesn’t feel chaotic like some artists’ studios do. At first I was freaked out by the open-plan thing, but I’ve grown to enjoy bumping into people.”
In particular, Thaddeus has worked closely with the high-end textile designer Kit Miles, who until recently was also based at the Rum Factory. “We share ideas and swap books. We check in on each others’ work, like an informal crit.”
“The Rum Factory has good bones - it’s a nice old building with a reassuring feeling. And it’s easy for me to take deliveries here - something that’s very important in my job.”
Thaddeus attributes some of his success to both his education and approach to learning. He speaks French, German, Italian and Russian which is important when communicating with teams in different countries:
I work with so many people and I need to inspire them all - language is key to understanding the nuances that make a difference.
He studied at the prestigious Cooper Union in New York before moving to London where he set up his base. He stresses the importance of embracing technology when it comes to theatre design and how he operates as a business. The normalisation of internet connectivity on several devices means he can be doing shows in both Los Angeles and Mosow at the same time.