The vast randomness of the props resting on shelves or strewn on the floor testified to the enormous variety opera offers the imagination. In 1966, when Lyric decided to undertake a production of Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, the setting called for the creation of a 30-foot statue of a Sri Lankan god. The massive structure of steel wire and foam required 16 men to hoist it on- and off stage—one of the largest props in Lyric’s history. When the curtain fell on the last night of the production, the statue was retired to its final resting place in the warehouse. The 1990-91 production of The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe, featuring stage representations of the writer’s dreams, was probably the strangest opera to cross the Lyric’s stage. The sets are stored in an oddly vignetted pattern—silhouettes of four people loom as an enormous flat bust of Poe gazes to eternity. Across the room, four simple busts of princesses resting on a gold cart serve as a delicate juxtaposition to the harsh world of Poe’s bloody thoughts. After 30 years of behind-the-scenes work at Lyric, propmaster Tom Gilbert and his assistant John Streichhirsch have developed an encyclopedic knowledge of—and deep affinity with—all things opera.
How it all started—and ended
Where (and how) the magic happened
A little girl's—and collector's—utopia
Photograph: Kate Roth