Opera designer sings Islands' praises
By Timothy Dyke
Special to The Advertiser
By Timothy Dyke
"It's not fat ladies with horns," says Peter Dean Beck, Hawaii Opera Theater's lighting and scene designer. "People have this idea that opera is snooty and elitist. It's not like that. It's good theater."
Drinking coffee in the middle of the afternoon last Monday, he had flown in from New York less than 24 hours earlier for his 20th season with the Hawaii Opera Theatre. No one would blame him for taking it easy on his first day in town, but there's work to do, so he ups his caffeine intake and talks about opera in Honolulu.
Living in New York City and working for opera companies in, among other places, Atlanta, British Columbia, Colorado and Florida, Beck feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in Honolulu for the past 20 years. "I'm lucky," he says as he leans his thin frame forward to emphasize his words. "I love it here. It's like this 'Brigadoon' that re-emerges once a year. I love the natural beauty and the people. The aloha spirit is not just something they talk about for tourists. It's real."
Beck's affection is reciprocated. This season, during its cycle of Italian plays, the Hawaii Opera Theater will feature a 20-year retrospective of Beck's work. The exhibition, on view in the lobby of the Blaisdell Center Concert Hall, is a visual record of his work in town.
"It's mostly HOT stuff," says Beck. Through collages of photographs, sketches of original designs, paintings of completed sets and a televised slide show, patrons can see how Beck takes an idea from concept to final design. The designer emphasizes that he wants the exhibition to focus on the shows rather than on pretty pictures. "I want to make it about the production," Beck says. "I want to show the work in context."
In his 50s, Beck's eyes reveal an enthusiastic vitality that makes him appear 10 years younger. On this day, he watches the construction crew as it raises lights above the concert-hall stage. He will be lighting "Rigoletto," HOT's first show of the season, and is designing the scenery for "Il Trittico," three one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini, which runs Feb. 24, 26 and 28. Describing his process, Beck says he learns the music and listens for suggestions of what something should look like.
He says opera design suits his talents and interests perfectly because "it is the intersection of everything. There's literature, music, painting, sculpture and engineering."
If opera is his preferred form of theater, then Honolulu may be his favorite opera venue.
"I love the regional opera houses. All of the scenery is handmade. Every show is fresh, and in Hawai'i, music and singing are a big part of the culture. The audiences are well-informed and dedicated."
However, he doesn't call himself an opera fan.
"I know what an opera fan is. I meet them all the time." He laughs and explains that while he loves opera, he doesn't have the dedication of the true fanatic. "I'm a baseball fan," he says with a self-deprecating smile. "I'll show up at the opening with pizza and beer."
Timothy Dyke is a writer and teacher who works at Punahou School.