Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Professor designs for LA Opera

Denitsa Bliznakova designs costumes for all principal characters in ‘Carmen’

Professor designs for LA Opera

By Teresa Monaco

Denitsa Bliznakova heads the Design and Technology MFA program at SDSU’s School of Theatre, Television, and Film, and leads the Costume Design program. A self-proclaimed late-starter, Bliznakova did not take interest in fashion design until her family immigrated from Bulgaria to the United States in 1990.

This summer, Bliznakova has been hard at work designing costumes for LA Opera’s upcoming production of Carmen. LA Opera is the fourth largest opera company in the United States, and Bliznakova cites it as one of the more exciting professional opportunities she’s taken on.

Art as a refuge

“I did not know English or much about American culture, so I found myself taking refuge in the arts,” Bliznakova explains. She attended Parsons School of Design in Paris and New York, which is where she found her love for fashion design. She continued on to obtain an MFA degree in Theatre Design at Brandeis University, and has been working as a designer for live performance for the past 16 years.

“Growing up, I played the piano and studied classical music, so working on an opera feels very natural. It combines my passion for classical music with art and design. The opera community consists of artists from all over the world. Among the various backgrounds and different languages, music is the unifying factor! It truly feels like home to me.”

An ambitious undertaking

Bliznakova explains that it usually takes about a year to design an opera because of the scale of the work and the length of the production (over three hours), compared to about one to three months for a theatre production. She was tasked with redesigning the costumes for all of the principal characters of Carmen, and created more than 100 costume ideas/sketches in about a month. Bliznakova stresses the important role that research plays in designing costumes for a specific period and setting. “It requires extensive knowledge of world history, social and cultural awareness, art and design.”

She speaks highly of the LA Opera costume shop, deeming it one of the best in the world. “The people were a great pleasure to work with. Their speed and perfect execution of each design was impressive. The hard work paid off by the end and there were many smiles and cheers as each design got completed.”

Teaching vs. the professional world

When asked about her teaching philosophy as a professor at SDSU, Bliznakova replies “There is a difference between designing in the classroom and designing in the field. My goal as a teacher is to recreate what it might be like working with professional directors, actors, and other designers, but in a school environment.” She introduces traditional methods while encouraging students to be innovative and take risks with their ideas.

“Awareness of my own journey and learning helps me stay more acute when it comes to the various paths of my students. This fosters my ability to teach and nurture their growth while providing insight that is relevant and firsthand. My ability to teach students required my own continued growth and learning as an educator, researcher, collaborator, and professional.”

A common goal and giving back

Bliznakova learns something new with every show she works on, and feels rewarded and humbled by working with a group of artists with a shared goal. “You are reminded daily that your work cannot exist on its own. It only becomes ‘real’ and meaningful when it appears as part of something bigger.”

As Bliznakova completes this milestone in her career, she reflects on the past and looks toward the future. “As an immigrant to the U.S. who at first felt lost and isolated, I found comfort in the arts. I consider myself lucky to have found the path that led me to where I am today. On the way, I was helped and encouraged by many role models and mentors. Now, it is my turn to give back. I will continue to bring my passion, energy, and expertise to the students, faculty and staff at the School of Theatre, Television, and Film. I feel inspired as a designer and a professor at SDSU and I hope to share this with everyone that I work with.”

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