Mirko Borsche has been designing for the Bavarian State Opera [Bayerische Staatsoper] for nearly ten years. Although previously the Munich-based graphic designer had worked for many leading brands, including Balenciaga, Nike and Givenchy, he had never taken on something quite so big. The organisation, which incorporates an orchestra and a ballet company as well as the opera, employs around 1500 people, and is one of the most highly regarded in the world. Fiona Maddocks, classical music critic of The Observer newspaper in London describes the opera house as ‘top notch, with world-class productions and crème de la crème performers.’
In some respects working for the opera is like identity design, and Borsche had extensive experience of creating brand guidelines for companies, but he quickly realised that the Opera’s designs – including posters, programmes, promotional materials and an in-house magazine – would have to be very flexible. He says that the process is more like editorial design, a discipline that holds no fears for him: Borsche is admired internationally for his groundbreaking magazine design for The Germans, Kaleidoscope and ZEITmagazin.
A hell of a job
Each new opera season has a different sub-theme, expressed in a sentence or two, such as ‘Alles was recht ist’ (‘All that is just’), which helps inform the musical programming and in turn the visual approach. Nevertheless Borsche is producing materials for very different events: abstract, hallucinatory orchestral music one day; extravagant and, in Borsche’s words, ‘almost cheesy’ grand opera the next. And the deadlines keep coming. Borsche declares that ‘it’s a lot of fun, but a hell of a job!’ The programme booklet design for each individual opera production has to be dreamed up, designed, corrected and printed in a couple of weeks, and there’s a new one to design at least every month. He also designs Max Joseph, the Opera’s free quarterly magazine.
One distinctive aspect of Borsche’s work for the opera is the involvement of many different artists and image-makers, such as Mark Titchner, whose eyeball-searing techno lettering features heavily in the designs for the current 2018-19 season. Suggestions regarding the choice of visual artists such as Douglas Gordon, Iris van Dongen, Georg Baselitz and Elisabeth Caren may come from the dramaturges (or directors) for the different productions, or from Borsche himself. In around a third of the cases, existing artwork is used; and in the remaining two-thirds the image-makers create new work.