mozart meets manga in the world of nicolas buffe
French artist Nicolas Buffe’s vision for the Il re pastore opera in Paris takes inspiration from video games, Japanese cartoons and Star Wars.
Aside from his gallery work, Tokyo-based French artist Nicolas Buffe is known for his collaborations with Hermès and Comme des Garçons. From today, his magical, sci-fi sets for the Mozart opera, Il re pastore, will open to the public. i-D met the 37-year-old near the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris to find out why he went manga on the scenography, costumes and set designs, not only updating the opera, but taking it into a whole new world entirely.
Looking at your sketches, one can tell that you are obsessed with manga, and sci-fi. Where does it come from?
During childhood, I was a big fan of video games and used to read lots of comic books and cartoon manga. I even studied Japanese to be able to watch manga in the original version. When I grew up, I was frustrated to realise that adults are not supposed to play videogames or read comic books. I couldn't bear this idea so I decided to work in the field. Mixing manga with 17th century baroque or other concepts that don't usually match is what I learned at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Then, I got a scholarship and went to the School of Fine Arts in Tokyo. I've always been fascinated by Japan. A young French man coming to train at their university confused Japanese students. Everyone used to address me in English even though I speak Japanese. I guess they wanted to practise their English.
Sending an opera like Il re pastore to another planet is quite daring. Would you say that any piece could be transformed into manga?
Not all of them, but I am persuaded that mythologies share some universal and timeless topics such as love, conflict or power. It's always about a hero who leaves home, walks into the desert or a forest, then meets a mentor who will teach him. The mentor dies and our hero continues his journey to achieve his goal. He will tackle some problems before getting back home. Il re pastore occurs during Alexander the Great's conquests. It wasn't that difficult to imagine a sci-fi context with his soldiers moving in vessels to conquer the planets. Undoubtedly Star Wars is the main reference for this opera, as it's a big inspiration in all my work.
Would you explain the outfit of the main characters?
Alexander wears golden armour and a red cape. The inspiration was Xor, a Japanese super hero in a series that I used to watch on French Television in the 80s. The armour was manufactured in the same ateliers that produced the costumes for Xor. Alexander was famous for his blond hair, but I chose to refer to his mixed origins with an afro-blonde curly wig. The shepherd Aminta (played by a woman) works in a space gas station. He's appointed to become king but is not ready for it, so I made the royal cape and crown too big for him. His lover Elisa is always jumping, so I put the rabbit ears on her - the idea was brought to me by the videogame Final Fantasy 12 where you follow a humanoid with those same ears. All the Phoenicians have blue skin and white hair. Their chief Agenor has a small antenna on his head inspired by a cartoon series called Ulysses 31.
What is the set like?
In the first act, a 3D space station generates electricity with quartz crystals. Quartz represents power, like it does in Final Fantasy. The audience will be in a middle of a space battle and all characters will interact with their avatars on video screens. The second act takes place in the city of Sidon. It is a wasteland with old robots and the whole set will be purple.
Is it the same creation process for an art piece in a gallery or museum, a collaboration with Comme des Garçons or Hermès and designing for an opera?
It's a huge difference. When I finish my drawings for an exhibition, or the carré, Serio Ludere for Hermès or prints for Comme des Garçons (autumn/winter 2014 collection), they belong to the public. As for an opera, it's a reunion of many arts: the scenography, set and costumes don't come to life without the help of the director, the conductor, the singers and Mozart himself in this case. As a visual artist, my work is usually beyond time. I tend to consider an opera as a ceremony where audience and artists unite in a fixed place in order to listen and watch a performance. Before the act itself, there are rituals of preparation and after, you have your memories. I really appreciate the idea of the ephemeral.
Il re pastore runs until 1st February at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris.
Text Oscar Heliani