One of the founding fathers of present-day theatrical lighting design in Italy is Guido Baroni, whose lineage in lighting stretches back four generations. His daughter Lucilla carries on the tradition, and specializes in lighting contemporary dance. From their hometown of Florence, Guido and Lucilla reminisced about lighting the way for Italian LDs.
"My great-grandfather Niccolo started lighting stages at the turn of the century in Florentine opera houses, and my grandfather Mario worked from the 1920s to the 60s experimenting with custom and industrial lighting," Lucilla Baroni explains. "My grandfather also supplied and managed the lighting systems of the Verdi Theatre, from 1942 to 46, and the Pergola, from 1947 to 60."
The lighting rental and production firm Niccolo founded was passed on to Mario. With Guido and his brother Sergio, the firm was relaunched as B.B.B. Guido Baroni picks up the story in the 1940s. "When touring companies came to the theatres, I helped out as an electrician, and for shows, particularly operas, produced in-house, also designed the lighting," he relates. "In the early post-war years, I worked full-time at the Pergola with my father. It was very unusual in that period for touring companies to have all the hardware necessary for a show, never mind their own electrician. I first met Giorgio Strehler, the young, self-taught director of Caligula, in 1946; for that production he also designed the costumes and set and played a part. I worked with him shortly after on Shakespeare's The Tempest."
Accepting Strehler's long-standing invitation to work with him at the Piccolo Teatro della Citta di Milano, Baroni moved up north for the 1962-63 season, which included Brecht's Life of Galileo. "I saw his style and precision first-hand, his familiarity with the means at his disposal and his great sensitivity for lighting. At one point, he drew my attention to an almost imperceptible yellowish tinge in what should have been white lighting, caused by reflections from the narrow wooden frames of blackboards brought on to the set. He also asked me to recreate what he called sunlight's 'slight vibration, due to the air, dust particles, and so on.'"
This environment proved a hotbed for Baroni's creative flair: In a scene requiring an abstract, he used 500W white and blue Agfa photofloods, adding fluorescent tubes for a cold feeling. But the white-painted insides of the scoops used to light the wings and backdrop gave the wrong tone, so he had them lined with silver paper, making the light greyer. "At half-past five in the morning, after dress rehearsal, Strehler continued suggesting to me changes in cues, and to the actors better ways of saying their lines," the LD recalls. Besides Strehler, Guido Baroni has worked with more than 100 directors of the caliber of Ken Russell, Jonathan Miller, Jean-Louis Barrault, Erwin Piscator, and Leon Pabst, not to mention world-famous Italians including Visconti, Zeffirelli, Olmi, and De Filippo.
In 1964 Baroni returned to Florence, where he was LD for the famous Maggio Musicale festival until 1985. But his experience extended far beyond the confines of the Teatro Comunale. "As we had the first theatrical lighting firm in Florence, we were called on to illuminate all kinds of events--ballet, shows for children, concerts, operetta, and cabaret--but our speciality was definitely opera." The Baroni family lit all kinds of shows (conventions, art exhibitions, expos, and fashion events) in all kinds of places, such as discos, abandoned sheds, piazzas, and parks.
Florence's first important fashion shows were held in Palazzo Pitti's famous White Room in the 1950s as an elegant alternative to Paris; with his printed fabrics, Emilio Pucci was the top as far as stylistic innovation was concerned. During the period of the shows, there were dinners and dances in Florence's most exclusive venues, for which Guido Baroni was also in charge of the lighting. In the 1970s, parades were organized like shows, and Massimo Massimini (one of the period's top directors) put stylists such as Armani and Genny in the spotlight. "We were always on the lookout for new ideas as far as set design and lighting were concerned," says Baroni, "and this sector hadn't yet been submerged by the avalanche of light required for TV."
It was during this period that Lucilla became enmeshed in lighting. "I inherited his passion for theatre lighting, but in high school didn't dream of following in my father's footsteps," she says. "I wanted to work in the theatre, so I enrolled in Bologna University's Disciplines of Art, Music, and Spectacle (DAMS) course, and built up experience in all sectors of show business, like acting, make-up, directing, and video work. But I almost always ended up working on the lights in every production, and finally got my degree with a thesis on theatre lighting from the end of the century up to that time, based on research into my family's work."
Lucilla had already assisted her father on the occasional production by the time she finished high school, and served her apprenticeship with the firm when studies permitted. After university, she joined the company, and her first design, La scuola delle fanciulle (completed when she was 20) received good notices.
Besides lecturing at Florence's Fine Arts Academy 1971-78, Guido has held courses in Genoa, Rimini, and Siena, and taught many members of the new generation of technicians and LDs. He was also guest speaker on lighting in Paris for the video Jours et nuits du theatre in 1991. "The difference between what I taught aspiring directors and set designers and the topics of the courses for theatre electricians is that the former were more interested in the aesthetic aspect of the work and the latter in the technical side. But two indispensable elements, neither of which can be taught, are fantasy and intuition."
In the 1980s, Lucilla and her cousin Marco joined B.B.B. They changed its name to B&B, but Marco recently left the trade and the firm now bears Lucilla's name. Her father helps with management and design work, and they have an installation and production crew. In the 1990s, B&B lit a series of shows celebrating Italian fashion, such as "The White Room: The Birth of Italian Fashion," held in Florence in 1992 and at the Louvre a year later.
Regarding her career, Lucilla says, "My work as an LD and lighting director with the Balletto di Toscana [one of Italy's best-known contemporary dance companies, founded in 1985] has taken me to France, Russia, and the International Dance Festival in the Canary Islands." She has worked extensively with the Florence Dance Theatre and was entrusted with lighting Italy's contemporary dance and ballet shows at Iraq's Babylon International Festival in 1993.
Lucilla has also designed lighting for musicals produced at Marches-based Compagnia della Rancia, including Little Shop of Horrors, A Chorus Line, and Il Giorno della Tartaruga (a tribute to Italian musical writers Garinei and Giovannini), all of which toured Italy. "Although I prefer to go out with shows I've designed and personally take the responsibility of any changes to be made to adapt the rig and design to suit theatres' structures, budgets don't always stretch to that," she says.
Since 1992, Lucilla has concentrated on contemporary dance, finding the latter more satisfying from a lighting standpoint and working with many of Italy's up-and-coming choreographers, including Elisabetta Vittoni and Versiglia Danza. Two unusual projects were Chevalier de Pas, in which Angela Torriani's contemporary dance was combined with selections by Flavia Sparapani (one of Italy's leading Renaissance dance experts), and a 1996 theatrical adaptation of the Canticle of Saint Francis, staged in front of some of Italy's most beautiful churches.
The Baroni firm has also designed lighting for expos and promotional events by Fiat, Ungaro, Valentino, and Cerrutti. Lucilla says, "As far as expos are concerned, my 'secret' is lighting them as if they were stage sets. With theatre work, I prefer to use traditional instruments, as I look for a certain quality in my lighting that neither scanners nor color changers can give me--but I'd be lost without a computer nowadays, particularly for dance productions.
"I think my designs stand out for my choice of colors: Color is definitely fundamental, and I feel designing is like painting," Lucilla continues. "I've got my favorite instruments, and use them in association with the intrinsic meaning of the show or event in question, but it's indispensable to immerse yourself in the show and contribute to the overall rhythm with the lights. The most unusual light source I've used to date, initially called Uvistra, is slightly different today and is called Ultramed. It creates a diffused light which slowly increases, passing through various ultraviolet tones and generating an alienating, metaphysical atmosphere--we used this in the Florence Dance Theatre production of Lost in the Stars, but the effect this lamp gives is extremely difficult to photograph. Although I'm sure TV could be interesting, I prefer theatre work, as I love dark atmosphere and selected areas in lighting, two things you can't reconcile with TV shooting."
Guido and Lucilla are committee members of the Italian Lighting Designers Association (ALI), but both are rather pessimistic about the body's future. An overall lack of participation by members in its various activities, due to work schedules and frequent travel, has hamstrung the association. "ALI has also run into numerous bureaucratic and administrative obstacles, as the institutions aren't the least interested in giving official recognition to the profession of lighting designer," says Guido Baroni. Lucilla adds, "My work as general secretary of ALI includes administrative, writing, and PR work such as organizing roundtables held at the SIB show. At these, directors, set designers, and critics have discussed the artistic role of lighting designers, always relegated to too-brief mentions in Italian show reviews."
Called in as technical consultant for the restoration of several theatres in Tuscany and Umbria in the 1980s, Guido Baroni was also appointed by Florence's mayor to design lighting for the city's principal monuments on the occasion of the Italia 90 celebrations. Though recently retired from full-time work, he has kept busy by helping Lucilla and researching new technical solutions for problems posed by directors, a constant stimulus for creating new ideas. He also builds light "sculptures," usually made with recycled materials and painted lenses, glass, and Plexiglas, lit from the inside. His career has spanned endless technical changes.
"There were still water and salt dimmers when I started out, and we lit a stage with just a few luminaires. In the 1950s, my decision to put luminaires in the hall at the Pergola was really revolutionary," he says. "Resourcefulness and manual dexterity have always been the basis of my work: Although apparently impeccable, new hardware always lacks something, and despite ongoing technical development in lighting, I've always preferred an artisan approach. Through the years, this has enabled me to put 'impossible' theories and ideas into practice; it also led to my grandfather inventing a piano to turn lighting on and off in sync with the music, and my father coming up with some rudimentary reflectors made with metal buckets. My advice to today's theatre LDs is: Learn when and how to use the right instrument or lamp, but don't be afraid to go against the 'rules' and experiment with instruments and lamps for uses they aren't ordinarily intended for. You'll know you've achieved your goal when the whole show's harmonious: My motto is 'When the audience doesn't notice the lighting, you've got it right.'"
Mike Clark, an Italy-based Scots journalist specializing in entertainment technology, can be contacted at email@example.com.