Maria Björnson

There was much discussion last night about the militant perfectionism of Maria Björnson, the great opera designer who died in the bath in her house on Hammersmith Mall on Friday 13th. December, 2002, aged 53.   We got to know her on holiday in a villa near a racing track north of Florence in (I think) 1982, when she was still poor and obsessive, living in a basement flat with her mother off the Brompton Road (her mother used to do the research for her designs in the V&A library).   I remember the moment when she asked whether it was sensible to take on working on a musical based in the Opéra in Paris.   I advised against, because she wanted to remain faithful to what she regarded as the high art of theatre and opera and thought that she would be ostracised for designing a musical.   She ignored the advice and took on the design of Phantom of the Opera which made her belatedly rich.   Her obituary implies that she was shy and neurotic, but I remember her as magnificent, funny and confident (if a bit neurotic), and a genius as a designer.

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