Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 3

5 Feb

Proceeding with my super-sized post, I will continue sharing what goes into one single Mozart Project photo. You can catch Part 1 if you want to learn about the design and music or Part 2 if you want to watch my mad photography skillz in action.

Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

In this third post, I will share with you my year-long travels to get the right shots to make a composite background for my photograph!

Composite Photography Elements

Accurate theatrical settings (exotic homes, buildings, locations) are almost impossible to secure when illustrating an opera scene through photography, and so I rely mainly on illusion. This either occurs in the actual photography, or in computer graphics which are added in afterward. Many of my photos for this project limit the viewing area to a small space (nothing outside the photo border is seen). This allows the viewer to infer, from props that are strewn about, what the full setting looks like. Other photos, like this photo for Mitridate, Act III,  are actually just taken in front of a blank wall and have various background elements added in after the fact.

That’s not to say it is easier to use computer altered backgrounds. I still have to photograph the elements of the background, as well as the model/actor. In this particular photo, I utilized 8 separate images.

  1. Model – Trevor Ivanich
  2. Sky
  3. Rock wall (2 images)
  4. Sea Cliff
  5. Birds
  6. Tower (2 images)


Montana Sky

Montanan sky, Big Sky country, used for the composite.

I live in Montana which is affectionately known as the Big Sky Country. This is an apt description, as it seems that the sky is at its fullest and most dynamic almost every day of the year, and is constantly changing due to landscape which features large mountains cascading into flat plains.

Every time I see a particularly striking sky, I run out and take pictures of it for my collection. Some days, though, I just sit and look at it and wonder if it could ever accurately be captured on film.

To quote the source, “Standing under the big sky, I feel free”.


During one of my trips to Nebraska, the geese were migrating.

Every year 14 to 16 million geese and ducks fly on through the Grand Island, Nebraska, area.

My mother and I drove out into the countryside to take pictures of these thousands of birds flying through the sky. There were other photographers out and about, as well. We met one on a board walk, where there was a Bald Eagle just sitting out in the water with the geese.

It was a very pleasant day.

Grand Island Nebraska Geese Migration

The migration of the geese near Grand Island Nebraska.

Sea Cliff

Sea Cliff

The Sea Cliff used in the Composite from my parents old slides.

Sometimes instead of taking a picture, I go through my parents old slides. Neither of them, it seems, ever cared to keep them, and so I spirited them away. During their travels my Dad took some landscape photos which work their way into my Mozart Project in the background. One photo of a sea cliff was used in my Mitridate Act 3 photo.

Rock wall (2 images)

Outside of Helena Montana there are numerous large ruins. They are apparently fallen chimneys, ovens and smokestacks, and are made of large stones and bricks. They remind me of the castle ruins of Great Britain. These structures are “Lime Kilns”, or ovens that were used to process Lime into a substance used for mortar. They went out of business in the late 1800s, when another Montanan lime company built their ovens right next to the railroad, cutting out the over-land transportation, and making the Helena lime kilns too costly to keep running.

Because the structures themselves are almost completely toppled, from many angles you can’t tell they are ovens, and they just look like general ruins.

My cousin Elizabeth, her dog, Harley, and I, took a brief trip out to these ruins to photograph these collapsed walls and fallen brickworks. This was something I had in mind even before taking Trevor’s photo as Farnace a year earlier. That’s to say, his photo was taken knowing that one of these walls would eventually be composited behind him, which is why, in his image, the backdrop is half white (sky) and half black (wall).

Ruins in Helena

The ruins in Helena, MT, with Harley and Elizabeth.

Bonus Music Clip

As a bonus, here is one of my favorite singers, Philippe Jaroussky, singing the Act III scene which I illustrated and which I have devoted these last three posts to discussing! I’m not sure if Jaroussky’s voice is quite right for this role, but his bow-tie looks like it exploded, so that’s pretty cool!

I have all of his albums. I hope he makes a Mozart album!

Here are the english lyrics:


I must go… Oh, Heaven, but where
Shall I direct my bold steps?
Ah, I hear you,
O sacred, powerful voices of nature,
O proud remorse of my heart. No, I am not
So callous, and at this price, for this
Throne, Aspasia, Romans, I detest you.

No. 24 Aria

Now from my eyes the veil is lifted,
Base affections, I abandon you:
I have repented and heed
Only the cries of my heart.
It is high time that reason
Returns to rule in me;
Now I retrace the fair path
Of glory and honour.

COMING UP NEXT – Conquering the Prison Tower in Miniature! (What on Earth could that possibly mean? Find out next week!)

Mitridate Act III set sketch


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