SEEN IN BROOKLYN: There are performances and there are events: the premiere of Handel’s Hercules by Les Arts Florissants at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 14, was certainly an event. Imported from the prestigious Aix-en-Provence opera festival in France, Hercules, was directed by Luc Bondy in a modern interpretation of the Greek tale, starting with Dejanira waiting for Hercules, her husband, to return from war. The set design by Richard Peduzzi, could have been timeless, with a stage covered with sand, disembodied pieces of a classical statue of Hercules scattered on the floor, and tall gray/beige walls that enclose the playing area. But the presence of a blue and yellow oil drum is an anachronistic touch that plants the production firmly in the present. As do the costumes by Rudy Sabounghi that include modern army uniforms and dog tags, as well as cargo pants with a map tucked in the pocket. The captured princess Iole wears a white slip dress under a large jacket with a very modern purse in electric green (and out of which Dejanira pulls an emery board…).
The dramatic lighting by Dominique Bruguière ranges from general stage washes to moments where the sand on the floor is grazed with side light that blasts in from stage right when the wall opens, giving the sand both depth and texture. The rig includes 4kW and 5kW Fresnels, Bac Fluos Quadri (dimmable flourescents on the #1 electric), a 2,250W Svoboda fixture, a Strand Lighting 2.5kW HMI mounted on a track that moves across stage, and the usual complement of 1kW & 2kW profile spots. BAM production manager, Dan Duro, explains that the “sand” is actually powered cork used upon a cork floor cloth that provides most of the sandy color, with the powdered cork placed on top. It is as abrasive as real sand (some of the singers have bare feet and roll on the floor), and lighter, but tracks more easily into the dressing rooms and sticks on the costumes. The statues of Hercules, both the one in pieces and a whole one that comes in at the end, are lightweight, hollow sculptures that came with the production from France. At one point on the stage left wall, an image of Hercules returning triumphantly is actually a shadow created with a 2D silhouette with a single source behind it. The pre-set curtain, a large piece of bright blue silk, is suspended on a track with magnetically controlled clamps. When released, the silk falls to the floor in a dramatic effect that reveals the set at the end of the overture. Conducted by the company’s founder, William Christie, the production was beautifully played and sung (with Joyce DiDonato a standout in the role of Dejanira). While a modern dress production is a departure for Les Arts Florissants, it did not detract from their interpretation of this Baroque opera.--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
SEEN OFF BROADWAY: Les Freres Corbusier is a dynamic young theatre company that combines odd technology and off-beat humor in their latest production, Heddatron, currently at Here in downtown Manhattan. Designers include: Cameron Anderson (sets), Jenny Mannis (costumes), Tyler Micoleau (lighting), Jake Pinholster (video), and Bart Fasbender (sound), as well as Meredith Finkelstein and Cindy Jeffers of Botmatrix who designed the radio controlled robots who abduct a housewife from Michigan and take her to a robot forest in the Amazon and force her to perform Hedda Gabler over and over again. Actual robots perform the other characters: a black robe and white wig zipping around as the judge and a broom as the maid, for example. The abductors are more classic looking robots of sheet metal with blinking lights. The set has a living room stage right and a kitchen stage left, both peppered with video screens for a mix of live and prerecorded images. A young girl (the daughter of the abducted woman) gives a report on theatre history based on Henrik Ibsen (who invented the well made play, or as she says, before Ibsen, plays weren’t very well made). Ibsen’s dining room is in the middle, yet the set moves apart to reveal a Hedda Gabbler set and a large wall where projections of the forest are seen. It’s a witty, insightful production, just what one has come to expect from Les Freres Corbusier.--ELG
SEEN AND HEARD IN AND AROUND TOWN The exhibit, Isamu Noguchi - Sculptural Design, includes set designs for the Martha Graham Dance Company created by the acclaimed Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). At the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles through May 14, the exhibit showcases more than 75 works encompassing multiple disciplines to break down the barriers between sculptural art and functional design. It includes Noguchi's portrait busts, and unique stone sculptures, as well as his iconic furniture designs and Akari lamps (www.janm.org). The Los Angeles Opera has announced that its new productions for the 2006-2007 season include Don Carlo, with sets by John Gunter, costumes by Tim Goodchild, and lighting by Duane Schuler. Schuler is also lighting the LA Opera premiere of Manon, a co-production with the Staatsoper Berlin. Sets are by Johannes Leiacker and costumes by Susan Hilferty. Another LA Opera premiere, this one coming from the Netherlands Opera, is The Coronation of Poppea with sets by Michael Simon, costumes by Emi Wada and lighting by Jean Kalman.--ELG