In the esteemed corridors of Oper Frankfurt, where the echoes of applause for ‘opera house of the year’ still resonate, the celebrated designer and Graphis Master Gunter Rambow embarks on a creative journey each year, crafting visual stories that encapsulate the essence of operatic productions. His canvas is the poster, a herald of the rich narratives set to unfold on the stage. With a partnership cemented in artistic dialogue, Rambow and his wife, Angelika, traverse the path from concept to creation, their work a dialogue with the dramatic texts provided by the opera’s dramaturg. As they transmute the complexities of operas like “Die Zauberin – The Charming” (above, left) and “Hercules” (above, right) into a single image, they capture the eye and the imagination, setting the stage for an immersive experience long before the curtain rises.
By: Angelika & Gunter Rambow
2023 was the seventh time Frankfurt Opera received the award “Opera House of the Year” from the critics of the magazine Opernwelt. Frankfurt Opera regularly commissions works from world-renowned composers and is also known for presenting unknown and rarely played operas.
For more than 10 years, I have had the honor of designing posters for the Frankfurt Opera. To start with, I made the basic design where the performance dates are shown in front of the bracket of the already existing opera logo.
Before I start working on a poster, I receive the accompanying text from the dramaturg, describing the plot and production. After a while, or (if I’m lucky) immediately, I make a first sketch of the poster. Most posters with objects will be photographed by me. This is the case with Die Zauberin and Hercules. I discuss the next steps with my wife Angelika, with whom I work. Before I start working, I call the dramaturg to explain my idea and the sketch for the poster.
Die Zauberin (The Charming)
Die Zauberin (The Charming) is an opera by Peter I. Tschaikowski and was first performed in 1887 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The plot combines a drama of love and jealousy with political intrigue and religious entanglements. Nastasia is a charismatic, emancipated, and enchanting woman. She runs an inn outside a Russian City where all levels of society come together, and she fascinates everyone with her openness and her thirst for freedom. Mamyrow, a clergyman and advisor to the prince, is annoyed by this and reports Nastasia for sorcery and immorality. That’s why the prince has to inspect the inn. However, Nastasia succeeds in winning over the prince while making his advisor look ridiculous. The prince falls in love with Nastasia but rejects him; she is in love with his son. At the same time, Mamyrov stirs up the princess’s jealousy, and the drama begins.
The dramaturg told me that the stage design of the royal court is full of status symbols, and my first thought was the Russian Fabergé-Eggs. These were made in St. Petersburg between 1885 and 1917. They were a symbol of luxury. The other side of the coin came to my mind when eating my breakfast egg: what a natural beauty with delicate freckles. When I was satisfied with the photo, the writing was laid out in delicate contours across the entire width to not destroy the image but also show the fragility and the power of The Charming.
Hercules is an opera by Georg Friedrich Handel and was first performed in 1745 at the King’s Theater in London’s Haymarket.
Contrary to what the title suggests, it’s not Hercules but his wife, Dejanira, who is at the center of the plot. Dejanira is worried about her husband, who is on a campaign. She ponders that he might be dead and is later overjoyed when he returns. However, in Hercules’s entourage is the beautiful Princess Iole, who has been taken captive.
Dejanira flares up in jealousy despite no signs of Hercules’ infidelity. Her jealousy increases to the point of madness. She tries magic to restore her supposed lost love, and with that, she kills Hercules in the end. Dejanira’s madness and jealousy are the central themes of the Hercules opera.
My first association was the image of a heart containing barbed wire. I made a sketch of what I wanted it to look like. The first barbed wire samples proved too coarse and difficult to process, so we ended up with a small version for model making. For the background, I chose a dark, cold color, and the wire shadow heightened the gloom. Sometimes, I have to take a lot of photos until it looks the way I want it to look.
Everybody knows the symbol of the heart with Cupid’s arrow, which is awakened to love. In the case of the lettering “Hercules, “this arrow gets stuck in the barbed wire and foreshadows a bloody end.
Gunter Rambow is an award-winning graphic designer and photographer based in Güstrow, Germany. He studied glass painting at Staatliche Glasfachschule Hadamar and later graphics at HBK Kassel. He has served as a professor of graphic design and visual communication at Gesamthochschule Kassel; Tongji university, Shanghai; and HfG Karlsruhe, where he is emeritus professor.