MULRONEY: THE OPERA was a highly entertaining project because it allowed for another collaboration with Larry Weinstein of Rhombus Media and Costume Designer Linda Muir (with whom I’d worked on September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill plus several other Rhombus projects as well). The film’s playfully satiric and musical skew on the life of ex-Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and by turns the surrounding world of Canadian politics overall, called for a broad slate of research, re-enactments and reinventions in which no one was spared the fun.
Mulroney is a project in which actors lip-synch to an original and varied score by Alexina Louie, pre-recorded by professional opera singers, this being a device Weinstein and Louie used on the wildly popular short film Toothpaste and their follow-up, Burnt Toast that I also designed. Those two films used naturalistic scenarios and environments to act as a foil to the operatically heightened emotions of the music, and originally, Larry had felt he wanted to maintain this for Mulroney as well. However, with the extended length and storyline of Mulroney, it became apparent and desirable to create some epic and metaphoric visual statements to chart the highs and lows of Mulroney’s eventful life, contrasting with scenes that were rooted more clearly within a believable reality.
This became an exhilarating and highly inventive collaboration on all levels, with the design demands ranging from a replication of the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament Hill, to a Quebecois lumberjack camp in the 1940’s. One of my favourite sets in my career was part of Mulroney and it is pictured here: The high nest of branches on top of which Brian and Mila Mulroney sing a transcendent aria, with a majestic David Lean sunset in the background. In reality this was a storage mound of broken tree limbs gathered by conservation authorities on the Leslie Street Spit, just on the edge of Lake Ontario measuring 30 ft wide x 15 ft deep x 15 ft high. When we saw it while on a location scout for something else, we all knew it had to be used for in the film. A scintillating creative collaboration drove our decision making process and thus we staged this dramatic scene with the simplest of means. And the sunset was an unexpected plus from Mother Nature.