Maria Scarpini, Artist and Set Designer

Color is Her Tool

By: - Jun 19, 2020


Maria Scarpini is multi-faceted to put it mildly. She is a trained restorer of old master paintings, monuments and frescos. She is also a self-taught painter who has been in group and solo exhibitions from Brooklyn, New York to the American University in Paris.

And now she can add ‘set designer’ to her resume.

Take her latest project, 12 vibrant, inventive sets created for composer Jed Distler’s  chamber opera, TOOLS. 

In the opera, protagonist, Larry, is bent on conjuring up the soul of his hero “Taccola.” Instead he conjures up Mephistopheles in Hell, which happens, in this case, to be Northern New Jersey. Let’s just say things get weirder from there.

Distler’s opera is both silly and serious. Scarpini’s sets are perfectly balanced to produce both comedy and empathy. “I approached the whole set design project as the painter that I am. Color is one crucial element of each scene,” says Scarpini.

Of course the leaping off point for the set designer is always the story, or libretto. The sets must reflect the spirit of the text, which Scarpini does exceptionally well in TOOLS.

A set designer must think like a sculptor as sets are 3-dimensional moving objects meant to be seen from all angles. To do this Scarpini built and hand-painted models of each set in her studio.

For the opening scene Scarpini chose very simple shapes, rectangular, triangular and frame-like, painting them in blazing reds, oranges and greens. “Color and sound can produce a different emotional reality once they are combined,” says Scarpini.

By Act III, her palette has shifted into cool colors of blues, greens and turquoise. Here the set has also been re-shaped into rounded edges and  ergonomic forms.

They seem to be paying homage to futurism.

Looking at these lively sets there can be no doubt that  for Maria Scarpini color is definitely her ‘tool.’

A reading of the opera took place in October, 2019, at St Mark’s Church-in-the Bowery.

 Opera: TOOLS
Libretto: Luigi Ballerini
Composer: Jed Distler
Sets: Maria Scarpini