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Bureau Borsche and James Kerr: Spartacus

Work / Graphic Design

Bureau Borsche and James Kerr give the Bavarian State Opera a new look (and it’s wild)

There are many things that come to mind when you think of opera. People in frocks, red velvet, those tiny, tiny binoculars. Jesus rocking out in his pants to some phat tunes? Not so much. Welcome to the weird and ruddy wonderful world of Bureau Borsche’s new look for the Bavarian State Opera’s 2019/2019 season.

A collaboration with artist James Kerr (aka Scorpion Dagger), the suite of videos and posters are a pretty out-there interpretation of operas and ballets. The body-popping Christ, for example, is a take on A Jour – a trio of dances inspired by death and ecstasy.

It might surprise you to learn that the director of the Bavarian State Opera tasked Bureau Borsche, which has been designing its annual identity since 2009, to opt for a more classical look than in previous years. Founder Mirko Borsche tells It’s Nice That: “It’s [the director’s] last year and he wanted to have something that fits the opera and its audience. He also wanted to create something more interactive, in his words, ‘something like a USB stick’.”

A modern, moving take on medieval paintings, James’ works, however weird, do actually answer this brief for a more classical approach. Mirko says, “I’ve actually wanted to work with James for the last five years, but we never had a brief that fitted him as perfectly as this one. He has a brilliant and also delicate sense of humour, always surprising and full of references.”

Rather than give James a prescriptive brief for each ballet and opera, Bureau Borsche let him do his thing after equipping him with the content of the plays and the vision of the dramaturges. “I don’t believe in talking too much to people about their work,” says Mirko. “We already did our job by choosing him and then in the way we exposed his work to the audience. We didn’t want to influence his narrative.”

Using an “over-decorated” version of typeface Scotch Modern, Bureau Borsche has created static print materials and animated videos for digital marketing using James’ artworks. The project also gave the studio the chance to bring the architecture of the opera house to life by hiding AR animations in the programme and the building’s existing paintings and statues, which can be discovered via a smartphone. 

Featuring karate-chopping cardinals, Falstaff pumping iron, and two Greek twins watching telly, what’s so amusing about James’ work is the clash of eras and the very pained expressions his characters pull. We can’t think of a better way to get people going to the opera.

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Bureau Borsche and James Kerr: Ratmanksy Dawson & Eyal

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Bureau Borsche and James Kerr: Falstaff

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Bureau Borsche and James Kerr: Castor et Pollux

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Bureau Borsche and James Kerr: Swan Lake