On a dreary afternoon in late November, inside a cavernous former shipworks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Michael Zaragoza was busy dipping shredded burlap sacks into buckets of gritty plaster. He then draped the stiffened sheets over a plywood platform, creating a craggy stage for Verdi’s “Macbeth,” the 1847 work that LoftOpera presents here starting Thursday.
Nearby, Alyshia Taboas cut into bright blue sheets of roof insulation, her utility knife forming the notches and ridges onto which Mr. Zaragoza would drape his rocky fabric.
Most days, Mr. Zaragoza would be directing construction workers at one of a handful of luxury condominium developments around the city. They would be using the same plywood, the same Structo-Lite basecoat plaster, the same Georgia Pacific extruded polystyrene boards, to give form to multimillion-dollar apartments. Ms. Taboas, a marketing manager, would then help stage and sell them for her and Mr. Zaragoza’s employer, the developer, designer, builder, and property manager DDG.
It’s not unusual for corporate entities to give money to arts organizations. It’s far less common for them to actually break out the hammers and nails.
“We could just donate to the arts,” Joseph A. McMillan Jr., who founded DDG, said by phone. “But as a real estate company, we have opportunities and capabilities others might not possess.”
Daniel Ellis-Ferris, one of LoftOpera’s founders, said: “We’ve worked with fashion designers who have donated pieces before, but this is more like them donating a stylist and creating a whole wardrobe.”
When Mr. McMillan started DDG, he also established the DDG Foundation, which mostly partnered with visual artists on its sites. Among them, an 11-story edition of Yayoi Kusama’s “Yellow Trees” surrounded its 345meatpacking development, and two murals have adorned 100 Franklin in Tribeca where DDG will eventually build a condominium.
Last year the foundation canvassed DDG’s staff for partnership ideas. Mr. Zaragoza — who developed an affinity for opera as a child after visiting a rehearsal for “The Magic Flute” in which a family friend was playing trombone — made an opera-related proposal that was an overwhelming favorite. (On some DDG work sites, arias can be heard inside the construction trailer, rather than the usual heavy metal or hip-hop.)
It was a 2015 performance of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” by Apotheosis Opera — like LoftOpera, a small but ambitious New York company — that inspired Mr. Zaragoza to ask his bosses if the firm’s expertise in laying herringbone floors and sculpting cornices could be put to another use. Once Apotheosis had selected its next show, Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West,” the artistic team set to work with the developer. While the set for “Tannhäuser” was built over a weekend in a Queens backyard, a workshop in SoHo, complete with a 3-D printer and laser cutter, was at the company’s disposal for “Fanciulla.”
“People who came to the first show and came back for the second one said, ‘Oh my God, the production value is so much greater,’” said Sam Bartlett, Apotheosis’s lead producer.
DDG donates supplies and labor for its opera projects. “We have so many buildings going; we have lots of materials on hand,” Ms. Taboas said. DDG also hosted a fund-raiser for Apotheosis at one of its condominiums downtown, at which the opera raised about $4,000.
DDG began working with LoftOpera in late summer, when the “Macbeth” production was already underway, so the job was more about expanding the opera company’s vision, which called for a cavelike set within the looming surroundings. Old pine joists salvaged from DDG’s 12 Warren in Tribeca will serve as a table; hunks of bluestone from past projects were also considered but were deemed too unwieldy. DDG’s experience with the city’s building bureaucracy has helped with getting permits and expediting inspections for the vast manufacturing space.
That space, inside Building 128 at the Navy Yard, was donated by Mast Brothers chocolate company, which is relocating its factory there. (Rick Mast, one of the founding brothers, studied opera in college.) Much of the burlap used for the stage came from old cocoa sacks.
“This is way beyond what we would normally do,” said Mr. Ellis-Ferris, who was testing acrylic finishes on a boulder the crew had assembled in four days from yet more plaster and plywood. It rolled on a large scaffolding that would have recently carried electricians and painters at a DDG site. A week earlier, it had all been just a rendering on Mr. Zaragoza’s computer screen.
“We’re not set designers — to say we are would be a lie,” Mr. Zaragoza said. “But we know how to design and build things.”