LD Paul Pyant recently lit a most unusual double bill for the finale of Los Angeles Opera's 2001-2002 season. Bartok's eerieDuke Bluebeard's Castle was paired with Puccini's lighthearted Gianni Schicchi (usually part of Puccini's triptych Il Trittico), directed by filmmaker William Friedkin, and designed by Gottfried Pilz, with puppets by Michael Curry, a cast of characters never before, and perhaps never again, seen together on an opera stage.

“It was a difficult experience for the designers,” reflects Pyant, who adds, “the scenic design changed a great deal in the process. We were there for six weeks, with nine days onstage.” The end result was an interesting experiment, with two very different operas, each of which premiered in 1918, pulled together by the star presence of bass Samuel Ramey and certain visual elements.

The double bill was in repertory with Puccini's Turandot (lit by another British import, Alan Burrett) and, as a result, Pyant says there were three essentially separate rigs in the air. “The productions didn't really coincide,” he notes, although the use of automated luminaires, including Vari*Lite® VL5s, Coemar SuperCycs, and Martin Professional MAC 2000s, helped solve some of his design problems.

In Bluebeard (above), the sinister set was defined by two set pieces: an enormous spiral staircase, (inspired by Louise Bourgeois' 1999 sculpture “I Do, I Undo, and I Redo,”) and an abandoned chandelier sitting on the floor. Judith, Bluebeard's new bride, arrives with her husband; she opens a series of doors, each of which reveals Bluebeard's bloody history. The seven doors were indicated by one large door upstage center. When it opened, Pyant used crosslight from ETC Source Fours placed downstage. No frontlight was used, as the entire production was played behind a black front scrim; four 19° Source Fours were used from above as followspots.

A series of strange images was rear-projected with two Pani BP4 projectors onto RP screens behind the door. Two additional Panis were used from front of house, for scenes including ghostly images of Bluebeard's dead wives (created by American photographer Rocky Schenk), projected on the front scrim. The constant stream of images was continually processed on-site by UCLA student Miko Nezu.

The cloak of darkness in Bluebeard was replaced with much cheerier lighting in Gianni Schicchi (bottom), a farce set in the bedroom of a dying, wealthy Florentine (this production updated the action to the 1920s). The large spiral staircase that was so ominous in Bluebeard was moved to upstage center, outside of large glass doors. The bedroom itself was an expansive, multilevel affair, with a large chandelier in the center, which recalled the ruined chandelier from Bluebeard.

Here, Pyant backlit the cyclorama using various cloud templates in different colors to denote the changes in the time of day. The basic rig included ETC Source Fours and Source Four PARs, and in this case he was able to use four HMI followspots from front of house. His color choices were wider and brighter than in Bluebeard, where he stayed in the blue range with Lee 200-202 color correction and L120, and L106 for a primary red. For Schicchi, Pyant describes the palette as “favoring the odd end of the range,” with soft, subtle colors like pale amber gold and pink, as well as TV color correction filters (L232, L236, L238) with heavier color underneath (L120 deep blue and L134 golden amber). The opera house uses a Strand 550 Series control console.

Curry's puppets included fabric birds reminiscent of those he designed for The Lion King, as well as the souls of Bluebeard's murdered spouses that fluttered about the stage. At the opening of Schicchi, one of the souls escaped from Schicchi's dead body, eliciting a laugh from the audience and setting the tone for the comic half of the evening.

Other personnel on the production team included projection consultant Marc Rosenthal of Personal Creations, assistant LDs Lisa D. Katz and Casey Cowan, opera electrician Tony Bechtel, and assistant electrician Richard Hiner. Following this gig, Pyant returned to England, where he lit the new drama Frozen at the Royal National Theatre. Next up at the LA Opera is another Puccini, The Girl of the Golden West, designed by Michael Scott, with lighting by Alan Burrett.