One Hot Designer

The Hawaii Opera Theatre celebrates 20 years of Peter Dean Beck’s exquisite and evocative sets with an exhibition at the Blaisdell Concert Hall

Friday - February 10, 2006
By Alice Keesing
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Peter Dean Beck knew as a teen that he wanted to design theater sets
Peter Dean Beck knew as a teen that he wanted to
design theater sets

For the price of an opera ticket, Peter Dean Beck will issue you a passport in time and place. This master of illusion can take you to an impoverished 1800s Parisian garret, or to a luxurious Venetian palace or onboard a ship plying the ocean in the Middle Ages.

Beck has been transporting Hawaii Opera Theatre audiences for 20 years, and the house honors him as it kicks off its 2006 season this weekend.

“He really works wonders, we’re very lucky to have him,” says Jill Friedman, a HOT season ticket holder and self-avowed opera fanatic.

Hawaii is just one notch in Beck’s artistic belt. He has designed scenery and/or lighting for more than 200 productions around the country. An exhibition of some of that work is on display in the lobby of the Blaisdell Center Concert Hall during this opera season.

For the Boston-bred Beck, it all started one day in high school study hall. He’d had an early introduction to the non-performing side of the business, thanks to his grandfather who was a screen-writer.

“It came to me one day in study hall in high school that (stage design) is what I wanted to do,” he says. “It seemed to be the meeting place of all the things that interested me - art, painting, engineering, architecture, literature and music.”

After earning a master’s in fine arts in stage design at New York University (now called the Tisch School of the Arts), Beck landed his first job in 1977 doing La Traviata and Don Giovanni for North Carolina’s Charlotte Opera. One opera gig led to another, and soon Beck had carved himself his niche.

He got his first job with HOT in 1986 and has been here ever since. Officially called the company’s resident scenic and lighting designer, Beck actually resides on the other side of the country in New York. Six weeks a year he migrates west to the warmth of the Hawaii opera season.

“It’s like I have this other life here, like Brigadoon goes into the mist and reemerges,” he quips.

Beck is good with the quips and the quotes. On first meeting, he jokes that triple-barreled names are the domain of stage designers and assassins (John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Peter Dean Beck). When asked if he has a design of which he is particularly proud, he borrows a quote from architect Frank Lloyd Wright and shoots back,

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