Bregenz Festival tribute

Posted on 2nd April 2018 Under Tributes

The Bregenz Festival is deeply saddened at the loss of Johan Engels, the set and costume designer, who according to first reports died in the night from Thursday to Friday at his home in Bath, England. The South African born artist was closely associated with the festival from summer 2005, most recently creating the acclaimed set for the lake stage production of The Magic Flute. He apparently died of a heart attack in his sleep and was found dead yesterday afternoon, his agent stated. The funeral will be held in Great Britain. 

The Magic Flute, The Passenger, Masquerade and Show Boat

Johan Engels was born in April 1952 and studied Fine Arts and Design at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He went on to become one of the top stage designers in the world. He first worked at Bregenz as set designer for the Festspielhaus production of Masquerade in summer 2005, which was directed by the festival’s then artistic director David Pountney. This was followed by The Passenger in 2010, which he described as his most challenging design project up to that point. Given its stage premiere at the Bregenz Festspielhaus in a production by David Pountney, the opera was named “Rediscovery of the Year” by the leading specialist music magazine “Opernwelt” the following year. For the 2013 and 2014 season Engels produced the designs for the opera on the lake stage, The Magic Flute, including three approx. 24 metre high dragon dog sculptures that were positioned around a giant green turtle shell. David Pountney’s farewell staging of the Mozart opera broke attendance figure records for the Bregenz Festival. Engels had already produced a model of the set for the musical Show Boat which had been scheduled for the lake stage instead of The Magic Flute.

Ring Cycle in Chicago

Johan Engels was a close collaborator of the former artistic director of the Bregenz Festival,  David Pountney, with whom he worked on over 25 opera productions around the world. Most of the time the team included the costume designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca, who has likewise been involved in a number of Bregenz productions. The trio was scheduled to bring their Bregenz staging of The Passenger to Lyric Opera of Chicago early next year and to stage The Ring of the Nibelung there in the 2016 to 2020 seasons.

“His open spirit lives on”

“Johan Engels had a pivotal part to play in the big festival successes of recent years. The festival has very much to thank him for. His positive and open spirit and his dazzling creativity live on in his opera productions. We will remember Johan as a good friend and highly admired artist. May God rest his soul. We offer our condolences to his family and friends”, said Michael Diem, commercial director of the Bregenz Festival.

“Superb aesthetic grasp, stunning visual flair”

“Johan’s death leaves an enormous void in my personal and artistic life. We were very close collaborators over the last twenty years, including on important productions for the Bregenz Festival and Welsh National Opera. Everyone who has seen one of Johan’s productions will mourn the loss of this artist with a superb aesthetic grasp and stunning visual flair. I have lost an inspiration and a friend. The theatre has lost one of its most brilliant and dedicated practitioners”, writes David Pountney, artistic director of Welsh National Opera and former artistic director of the Bregenz Festival.

Bath (GB) / Bregenz, 8 November 2014