One of my friends, I won't embarrass him by naming him, said as part of his anti-eurotrash argument that he didn't want anything going on on the stage to distract him from the music. I beg your pardon!!
I'm still digesting this. I thought opera was supposed to be theater. It's not a point of view you can exactly argue with. I agree with him in one sense: I don't want to be sitting in my chair, my very expensive chair, wondering what the heck that gigantic horse's head is doing on the stage while the opera is going on unnoticed.
Putting the Egyptians in blue and white stripes didn't seem to cause this reaction. It functioned for me as a signal that these characters, these armies are Roman, these Egyptian. There were two factions within the Egyptians, but the designer didn't try to distinguish them.
I think the visual clarity of the design is what made this production so effective. It could have been a problem that Cleopatra changed so much, but one of the crucial transformations--from queen to captive--took place on stage. Cleopatra herself threw off her ornaments on being told Caesar was dead.
I want the production to draw me in, not away. I want everything going in the same direction.