Capitol File - - CONTENTS - BY SI­MON CHIN

The su­per­star street artist dis­cusses his mod­ern-day hi­ero­glyph­ics for Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Opera.

Mar­quis Duriel Lewis, aka Retna, is an ac­claimed con­tem­po­rary artist known for his graf­fiti script fus­ing sym­bols from an­cient cul­tures. On Septem­ber 9, the Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Opera opens a pro­duc­tion of Verdi’s Aida with his set de­signs, which lend a mod­ern look to the canon­i­cal opera set in an­cient Egypt.

What was the in­spi­ra­tion for your

Aida de­signs?

I was try­ing to go in a very Egyp­tian style. My art­work has al­ways been in­flu­enced by dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and a lot of my sym­bols deal with obelisks and domes. Aida [is] a story of two dis­tinct na­tions [Egypt and Ethiopia] at war. It was very con­sumed with what my work is about, and how dif­fer­ent peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tures end up fall­ing in love and come to­gether to be­come one.

What was it like work­ing with di­rec­tor Francesca Zam­bello? Francesca gave me a lot of free­dom. There were parts of it where I was ob­vi­ously in­tim­i­dated, but she said, “Mar­quis, just be your­self, just do your style.”

How did you adapt your art for the opera stage?

I was blown away by the [scenes] with the fab­rics. I had uti­lized them to make let­ters in a three-di­men­sional for­mat, and then to see how the dancers would make other forms out of that fabric… It be­came like a sculp­ture. That was beau­ti­fully done. Septem­ber 9–23, John F. Kennedy Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, 202-467-4600; kennedy-cen­ter.org

Retna work­ing on set de­signs for Aida (ơƞƫƞ ƚƧƝ ƭƨƩ ƫƢƠơƭ). ƚƛƨƯƞ ƚƧƝ ƛƨƭƭƨƦ ƫƢƠơƭ: Scenes from the pro­duc­tion are given a mod­ern edge thanks to the artist’s eye-catch­ing cal­li­graphic de­signs.

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