The Operama production of Giuseppe Raffa's Aida has played to enthusiastic crowds throughout the world. Its largest incarnation to date, with an incredible 700 performers, was recently staged in Portugal. Even more incredibly, the scenery for this extravaganza was composed entirely of projections.

The three projection screens, judiciously weighed down by numerous water ballast tanks, effectively formed a single 180'x48' (55x15m) projection area behind an d alongside the stage. The entire four-level stage set was white, so performers and orchestra (the pit was sunk into the first level) were completely immersed in a breathtaking projected set. The design was a collaboration of LD Simon Corder, Patrick Watkinson, and the late Fiorenzo Giorgi.

Corder believes in atmospheric, expressive, whole-stage images, rather than follow the tendency in large-scale projections to use graphics and animation as attention-grabbers. As Aida has a complex set and the images needed to fall in just the right places, he used a 3D CAD model of the set and some scaling to calculate where the images would land. Images were computer-generated or manipulated using Corel PhotoPaint v.7 software, then digitally output to 35mm slides and 4x5 transparencies.

"It's the first time I've worked on an Operama production, but my background in projection includes several productions with Lumiere & Son Co. from 1982 to 1989, where I shot original material on 35mm that was used to integrate the lighting and stage design, which were also mine," Corder says. "Joining a show that has already been presented is unusual for me, as I normally develop images from my own photography; much of this project involved taking existing work (about 50% from Giorgi) and developing it within the framework of an existing production."

Installed 345' (105m) from the screen, the 11 projectors were 5kW units from Hardware Xenon. White Butterflies Projections of London supplied the equipment. Alain Bardouil, who formed White Butterflies after running Hardware Xenon in London for five years and in New Jersey for two, explains, "We used new flicker-free lamps designed for Hardware by ORC Lighting Products, which are closer to 6.5kW than the nominal 5k. Of the 11 used, one had a double scroller, two a single scroller, and eight had automatic slide changers, chosen because some film warps under heat, which makes for scroll positioning problems. For control we used a Compulite Spark desk programmed as if the projectors were spots."

Complementing the projections was lighting by LD Dennis Guerrette, with a rig supplied by Belgium's ET&F Group. Equipment included 18 Studio Colors(R) and 18 Cyberlights(R) from High End Systems, 26 Martin PAL 1200s, Wybron color changers, and profiles and followspots from Robert Juliat. ET&F, which has worked with Operama since 1995, was also responsible for screen/sound rigging and mains distribution.