Interbrand’s photographic collaboration for Opera Australia

Working previously with Opera Australia to redevelop their branding and identity, Interbrand continue their collaboration with the performing arts company to produce the show catalogue for 2015. Alongside acclaimed fashion photographer, Georges Antoni, the publication is overflowing with colour, intensity and motion — suitably representative of the lineup and bold characters to star in each show. We spoke to Executive Creative Director, Chris Maclean, about the project from Interbrand:

Opera Australia introduced their new brand last year in an effort to make opera more accessible. How did you become involved?

The original identity for Opera Australia was also created by Interbrand many years ago, before any of the current team joined the company. Interbrand Australia in its current form has only existed for 7 years, and in that time we’ve worked with some amazing arts clients including Griffin Theatre CompanyQAGOMA and New Theatre. We really enjoy working with arts clients, so over the years we’ve built a portfolio of transformative arts brands. So when Opera Australia threw out their invitation to pitch, we found ourselves on their list.

We first met with Opera Australia early in 2013 when we pitched our approach to transforming their organisation. The company had a new Artistic Director, Lyndon Teraccini, who set refreshing new outlook that speaks to the future of opera – that opera should be for everyone. His bold vision includes performing in non-traditional venues as well as introducing more diverse programming to the mainstage, often involving cutting-edge technology.

The brief was as simple as it was challenging: How can we attract new audiences and make opera available to more Australians? We were attracted to the brief because it was a juicy problem for us to solve. These are the sort of questions we like because we get to put creativity to work on solving real problems. After our pitch presentation, we were told we had been appointed.

What did you try to avoid stylistically?

There are a number of barriers that hold regular people back from buying a ticket the to opera. One of them is that people think opera is old-fashioned, boring and all the same. The new brand needed to break down these misconceptions and position opera as a relevant, contemporary art form. The images needed to belong to the 21st century, not the 19th.

What was essential to include in the redesign? 

Lyndon Teraccini’s vision for the brand also stated that it should exist for a contemporary Australia. In a similar way to how modern Australian cuisine and architecture fuse many influences to create something truly contemporary and uniquely Australian.

The imagery for the previous brand was produced by photographing dress rehearsals, and as a consequence all imagery looked the same – essentially opera singers performing on a stage. We called this WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) photography, except so much of the emotion was missing that what you saw wasn’t what you got. The emotion, story, spectacle and music were all missing. In order to seduce our audience our imagery need to me much more evocative.

The WYSIWYG approach was also making all the images look stylistically similar, reinforcing in audiences minds that opera is all the same. We sought to fix this by introducing genres into the imagery in a similar way to how films sell themselves. We should instantly feel which operas are funny, dark, romantic or tragic so audiences can appreciate the diversity of opera.

We took the decision that ‘difference’ should become our imagery style to ensure that each image had it’s own relevant tone. We designed conceptual images for each opera and worked with internationally renowned fashion photographer, Georges Antoni to bring them to life.

We were looking for a way to present classical content in a contemporary way. Was a there a suitable way to be contemporary whilst not alienating an older audience? We found inspiration in sunday supplement and fashion magazines which greatly influenced the layout and typography of the brand.

How was the creative direction shared between the design studio and Georges Antoni’s photography?

Georges is an amazing photographer and incredibly easy to work with. What surprised us most, when we first met with George, was his unwavering passion for the project and how open to trying stuff he was. We really weren’t expecting him to be so generous with his time and talent. To shoot seven shots is ambitious, but Georges and his team were so professional it went without a hitch on both shoots.

Our designers at Interbrand produced the concepts for each shot before presenting to the client. This involved detailed briefings from OA, research into the stories, and close attention to the production design. Once the OA team and Lyndon were happy with the concepts we got Georges involved to brainstorm how we could realise the ideas. This is where having Georges on board was invaluable because he would take the concepts to the level with his technical and creative expertise. He was instrumental in helping to realise our vision for the images. Not only that but Georges is incredibly versatile which was important in creating a diverse set of images that all hang together.

Working with Georges is always an inspiration and a joy. An all round legend!

Explain the most difficult aspect of the project, or the greatest learning curve?

Last year we learned the hard way why WYSIWIG had been the preferred image style. Opera singers are international superstars and spend their time performing around the world so the logistics of putting a two day shoot together were incredibly challenging. In fact, we had to get creative with how we handled shots where talent was absent – you might notice a few silhouettes last year!

This year we were more organised and had the shoot worked out well in advance. We only had two days with Georges, so to shoot the seven shots need, things had to be tight.

In addition, the timings around designing two brochures (Melbourne and Sydney) with the same deadline are incredibly tight. Copy is being written, as images are being retouched and pages are being designed. It’s a logistical nightmare but it all comes together in the end. We’d be lying if we said it was easy, but doing something worthwhile never is!

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