That church occupying the Belk Theater this weekend during Puccini's "Tosca" isn't just a stage set. It's part of a cottage industry for Opera Carolina.
The "Tosca" sets, which date back to the 1960s, originally belonged to the New York City Opera. When City Opera was finished with them, Opera Carolina bought them "for a song," general director James Meena says. The deal also included sets for Verdi's "La Traviata." The company put those to work last year.
Designing and building brand-new sets can cost well into six figures or even more. So, like most companies other than the biggest ones, Opera Carolina typically rents sets that others have created. Over the past several years, though, the company has added another strategy: collecting sets that their owners no longer want. Opera Carolina turns around and rents them out -- charging a fee, of course.
The company expects to clear about $100,000 from rentals this year, Meena says, after covering its expenses. It has to pay rent on storage and workshop space in NoDa, for instance. Some of the sets repose in donated space in Dillon, S.C.
Before Opera Carolina put the "Tosca" sets onstage, it brought in a painter who specializes in stage sets to give them a touch-up. "Tosca" heads out next, Meena says, to Arizona Opera, which will use them later this season.
"As long as the opera business stays reasonably viable," Meena says," we're becoming a good source for a lot of these regional companies to get good-looking productions."
Opera Carolina will go the opposite route for its next performances. Mozart's "The Magic Flute" will feature new sets, costumes and video projections by Jun Kaneko, creator of last season's "Madama Butterfly." Opera Carolina went in with several other companies to commission Kaneko's "Flute," which premiered in San Francisco this past summer. "Flute" opens at the Belk Theater on Jan. 19.
(Photo of "Tosca," Act 1: jonsilla.com)