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Building unimaginable shapes

Michael Hansmeyer’s set design for ‘Die Zauberflöte’

Reading time
5 min.

For our production of Die Zauberflöte – one of Mozart’s most famous works and one of the most beloved of the entire operatic repertoire –, director Romeo Castellucci asked the architect Michael Hansmeyer to design the set of the first act. Hansmeyer in turn collaborated with Factum Arte to create the gigantic architectural shapes he generated by algorithms.

3D Model

Before being milled, the Factum design team created a 3D model to predict the outcome. It is composed of nine elements in total: four pieces were suspended five or six meters above the floor, while the other five are mobile across the base of the structure. Due to its size, it was crucial to divide each of these nine elements so they could be transported to the opera house.

© Michael Hansmeyer

In the early stages of the project, the Factum team had to convert a high-resolution geometry model into a giant physical object. The geometry model was generated by an algorithm programmed by Michael Hansmeyer himself. To optimise the assembling of the nine elements, a miniature was printed in 3D.

© Oak Taylor-Smith for Factum Arte


Next, each component was produced by a 6-axis robot milling extension and 5-axis CNC milling machine at the Factum Arte headquarters. Again, the size of the opera house presented difficulties causing this phase to take two complete months.

The second phase of developing The Magic Flute’s set was the assembly of the piece and inclusion of a stabilizing aluminum structure, which holds every piece together.

Finally, each piece, made from high-density EPS, was coated in a spray to maintain detail and layers of resin and glossy white paint. The Magic Flute resulted in an enormous piece, with a total height of 10 meters, width of 12 meters, and depth of nearly 8 meters.

Assembly at La Monnaie

After the elements were transported to Brussels, it fell to the La Monnaie technical production teams to attach the different pieces onto the rig, creating the illusion of one single entity.


On stage, set, costumes and props all blend together into a unified approach that did not go unnoticed. The Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad wrote: ‘In the first act Castellucci consistently carries through a strict symmetry in a breathtaking mise-en-scène. Flamboyant costumes, downy bird feathers, and hallucinatory fractaldesigns provide a snow-white rococo trip.’