Gabriela Tylesova, Art Design – Sets and Costumes

by L. Chrystal Dmitrovic

Empress Books
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Spring 2014

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What a transformation occurred on the stage of Melbourne's Regent Theatre in Australia during the run of Love Never Dies (LND) and for the filmed 2011 DVD production – one knew that the Phantom had definitely returned. Thanks to Helpmann Award winning set/costume designer Gabriela Tylesova, it's as though Leroux met Faberge or Tiffany in all the finest details. Innovative with the revolving stage sets and float-away set-piece backdrops and Chagall-esque curtains, less time was spent on set changes, which created a beautiful and faster flow between scenes. Most of the scene curtains are works of art in and of themselves, and the props so very authentic in appearance. For all the painstaking planning that went into the huge-scale set designs and their successfully functional operation, the technicians must have afterward been qualified as rocket scientists to have made the whole routine go like clockwork.

Performers at the ready before the tall circus canopy, overseen by “Mr. Y."
(Photo: Jeff Busby)

Some scenes from LND have the haunting cool sleekness of the deep blue-hued vampire tale, Underworld (2003) and its two sequels. Had Andrew Lloyd Webber set LND as he originally thought possible, in Manhattan, the vampire enclave's Gothic mansion in Underworld could just as easily have served well as the Phantom's home base. The LND costumes would also have seemed equally at home in such a setting.

Other set pieces that add extra marvel to LND include the large “floating” cameo of Christine against the midnight backdrop in the opening scene, and the whole fantasy concept of Phantasma. Tylesova's innovative and appealling designs are all truly a wonder to behold. At the time Leroux wrote his novel, the Art Nouveau and similar movements were in full swing, and the basic designs were popular in architecture and found in accents in Europe as the 19th century turned into the 20th. With its florid lines, elements of nature and stylized beauty, Art Nouveau influences were seen in everything from major works of art to fireplace mantels and candlestick holders. The (revolving) hotel suite set is a magnificent testament to this movement, sitting like an ornate ivory, gold-adorned curved wall with spiderweb-lined balcony doors, so fitting for the Phantom to walk through. It's opposite set side was the incredible balcony with its swirling vine and leaf-tendril railing and whirled flower bud lighting.

Out on the splendid Art Nouveau balcony, the Phantom sings to Christine how if it were “that other time, I'd make time itself somehow bend....”

As such, Tylesova's Art Nouveau inspired hotel suite and its obverse are truly like resplendent back to back Wedgwood clamshells. One of the most significant differences between the London Love Never Dies sets and Tylesova's Australian staging lay in that London had rear screen projection and so lacked some of the period tactile sense. The Australian production had inviting, luxurious and moving over-the-top physical sets that audiences could “move” with and have their attention swept along with. And move those set pieces did, like the rollercoaster ramps, the hotel suite, the dressing room; and the three floor circles within a circle inner stage that could move simultaneously in opposite directions. That stage was indeed the wondrous spectacle of a three-ring circus all in one.

Both inspired by the Art Nouveau movment – A late 19th century flower shop, the still-standing Danile Ost, Florist in Bruxelles, Belgium similar in design to the Coney Island hotel suite, featuring Jack Lyall, Anna O'Byrne and Simon Gleeson in the early 20th century in Love Never Dies

Mr. Y's Phantasma amusement park carousel, following the vision of Tylesova's designs, was created by Australian company, Rory Unite - Furniture Sculpture Design. Their art and beauty is, as they say, “...what we do;  designing and creating bespoke furniture and sculpture for amazing spaces. We love it and are so passionate about how it is growing. Foraging for timber is a beautiful past time and we will scour far and wide for some great gum poles or chunky pieces of reclaimed timber to transform into a unique piece; transferring the meaning of what something once was into a new vibrant state of being.”

A mythical carousel dragon in the workshop. To see more of the Phantasma carousel creatures during their construction:

Regarding the darker lower level “freak” show – Tylesova captured the idea that the Phantom dignified the performers by dressing them in gold and fine costumes and placing them not in barred cages but in splendid jewelbox-like pyramid cases. A spectacular 9000-light backdrop lit up the scene with circus and other skyline images. Having lived with the reality of his own deformity his whole life had made his heart tender and capable of seeing beauty instead of horror where the world might see it. He could do no less than give beautiful surroundings to his employees, and for The Beauty Underneath sequence, Tylesova delivered a design rich with a prismatic gleam to pervade and permeate the darkness and fully reveal the Phantom's concept of true beauty.

With its revolving and inter-revolving stage parts below, and chunks of set pieces and backdrops moving magically from above, below and in-between, the overall concept and set design by Gabriela is a marvel to behold and every bit as technically wondrous as the maze of trap doors and inventions Gaston Leroux had the Phantom create for the Paris opera house in the novel. What a most befitting tribute to the Phantom author to have had the stylized Phantom mask taking up one half of the stage, with the massive and imposing Trompe l'oeil set-piece behemoth incorporated into the immense LND stage frame.

A few of the costumes Tylesova designed and worn by some of the cast in this photo from Love Never Dies, featuring Sharon Millerchip, Simon Gleeson, Ben Lewis, Anna O'Byrne and Maria Mercedes. (Photo: Matt Edwards)

Costume sketches by Gabriela Tylesova for Christine's ivory dress, and the Phantom's evening clothes.
Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis in the designs sketched by Tylesova for Love Never Dies.

Without question, it was a creative stroke to have Tylesova be responsible for both set and costume design for the Australian production of Love Never Dies. Making it easier to adapt and blend the concepts for both, it also allowed the designer the creative room to dedicate herself to all that was involved in creating a harmonious theme of her visions and perceptions. But while she did have that freedom, she did have to meet a production deadline. (See the link below for an excellent article about Tylesova.) To be creative, to produce within a time frame, that is grace under pressure – which Tylesova met with great inspiration and success - to see Love Never Dies land onstage girded, dressed and preened to perfection.

To enjoy an article in Stage Whispers magazine, featuring LND's costume and set designer, Gabriela Tylesova, in the July/August 2011 article, Designing Love Never Dies:

Gabriela Tylesova's gallery website: