When Robert Swedberg, general director of Orlando Opera, chose to stage the double bill of Il Pagliacci and Carmina Burana this fall, he called LD Jules Lauve, who set out to meld the verisimo style of Il Pagliacci — a tale of murderous clowns and jealousy — with the Expressionist timelessness of the free-form drinking songs from Carmina Burana. In Swedberg's production, the show opened with a theatre usher, flashlight in hand, arriving at a bare stage from which back-projection screens and a few hung sheets were grazed with low sidelight, as subtle gobos fashioned a village scene of dusk and night. (The production also had abstract projections by Lisa Buck-Goldstein and costumes by Kevin Baratier.)
From the final moment in Act I, where the clown laments over the slain body of his wife and her lover, Swedberg picked up Act II in exactly the same position — but Lauve's lighting shifted to a more Expressionist style and the “singers” were, in fact, artists from the Cirque de Soleil-inspired Apogee troupe, under the direction of Debra Brown, a long-time Cirque choreographer. They leapt from this tableau into spirals of gymnastic movement, soaring on rings, ribbons, and trapezes. Lauve's lighting moved from the soft evening look of Act I to deep-colored downlight pools and grazing edge lighting on the carousing chorus.
Lauve's main companion on the journey to designing the 200-plus fixture rig was assistant LD Dawn Chiang. The compressed production schedule, hot on the heels of the symphony load-out from the Bob Carr Auditorium, was a substantial challenge. The rig comprised an esoteric combination of inventories from the theatre, the Orlando Ballet, and the Orlando Opera including Strand, Berkey Colortran, ETC Source Fours, Kliegl, and some wonderfully ancient Altman ellipsoidals. With just three and a half production days before opening, careful planning, storyboarding, and the collaborative use of design tools enabled Lauve and Chiang to work with the crew at the Bob Carr. Cues were handled by the ETC Obsession 600 console.
Lauve broke from Orlando Opera practice by bringing in reliable Lycian 1271s from Fourth Phase (provider of rental equipment and consumables). These were placed on the second cove — their subtle tinting in some fast-moving dance interludes in Carmina Burana was reminiscent of the great European designers. Block color washes from arrays of PARs and high sidelight from Source Fours with Rosco templates provided a solid lighting environment without washing out the projections.
The projections were created using 4,500 lumen Eiki projectors from Apple G4s running Apple's Keynote presentation software. This allowed the representational color graphics, created in Adobe Photoshop, to dissolve and animate behind Lauve's lighting design. The light plastic-backed Rosco projection screens framed the acting areas.
At times, the stage was filled with the 120-member chorus, supplemented by the dancers from the Orlando Magic — yes, Cirque-style dancers, cheerleaders, and opera singers, chorus, and supernumeraries cohabiting across and above the stage. Lauve's design accommodated the substantial holes in the overhead rig for trapezes and circus rigging as well as the panoramic staging of the chorus off the front of the stage and along the auditorium walls. A smattering of atmospheric haze bound together the lighting elements and dusted the stage with a dimensionality that was both real and ethereal.
Opening a new opera production in Orlando that relies so heavily on lighting scenography during LDI was bold and risky for Lauve, who was open to the scrutiny of many of his peers, but he pulled it off with brilliance. The lighting design was the glue that held together a complicated and rewarding production.