Crossover Artist: RETNA

Aida performs in the Kennedy Center Opera House September 9-23

Artists from many disciplines—painters, architects, sculptors—have been inspired to “cross over” to the world of opera. Last season, Washington National Opera presented Jun Kaneko’s vison for Madame Butterfly, which originally premiered in Omaha, where the Japanese sculptor and ceramicist now makes his home. The production, Kaneko’s first foray into theatrical design, was a natural fit; after its successful premiere, Kaneko went on to design scenarios for The Magic Flute and Fidelio. Other modern artists who have made their mark in opera include Marc Chagall, David Hockney, and William Kentridge, among many others.

This new production of Aida incorporates the work of contemporary artist RETNA (born Marquis Duriel Lewis). He has developed a distinctive constructed script that references Egyptian hieroglyphics, as well as scripts of other cultures. When he was approached by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello, he says, “All of a sudden the images of ancient Egypt coming to life on stage enveloped my mind. My past influences that I had seen in books, museums, and in my mind started to unravel visually. The honor and bewilderment that I felt knowing that my symbols had communicated the past and that I was now being asked to participate in Aida were just beyond me.”

Through September 24, a selection of RETNA’s work is on exhibit in the Kennedy Center Grand Foyer and Hall of Nations. Inspired by L.A.’s mural culture, RETNA is known for his art that fuses fine art and graffiti, straddling the traditional with the contemporary. In addition to exhibiting at galleries and institutions around the world, his diverse commercial projects include the cover of Justin Bieber’s Purpose album and collaborations with Nike, Louis Vuitton, and VistaJet.

—Kelley Rourke is the dramaturg for Washington National Opera