Although we'd both been involved in the Italian concert scene for many years, stretching back to the late 1960s and early 70s, my first meeting with top Italian lighting designer Pepi Morgia was during singer/songwriter Claudio Baglioni's 1996 Io Sono Qui tour. Besides designing the lighting, Morgia was also responsible for theatrical production and set design for quite an ambitious production for a local artist: a large in-the-round show with a troupe of dancers, mimes, and acrobats, an eight-piece band, and a rig including 32 Vari*Lite(R) VL5s(TM), 24 VL6s(TM) and 24 High End Systems Cyberlights(R).
Despite an ominous first impression when I met the tall, gaunt figure dressed completely in black (an old spaghetti western starring Lee Van Cleef came to mind), Morgia turned out to be extremely pleasant, with clear-cut ideas on his profession and the industry as a whole. We chatted briefly about that highly theatrical tour, and he promised to touch base later about his multifaceted career, which now spans 25 years since his graduation from the Art Academy of Genoa, his hometown.
I managed to pin him down between trips to Zimbabwe, where he was surveying the venue for a huge concert scheduled to be held on World Refugee Day in mid-June, near the spectacular Victoria Falls. What follows is the result of several conversations with Gian Luigi Maria Morgia di Francavilla, Ambassador of the Principality of Seborga at the Holy See. But that's another story.
Morgia, who began work in the music and theatrical fields in 1969 as an LD and set designer, was just a few years later designing the lighting for well-known Italian rock groups such as the New Trolls, Le Orme, and Osanna. He also designed for visiting foreign bands including Roxy Music, Genesis, Van de Graaff Generator, and Gentle Giant. "When I started off, there was nothing like the automated fixtures we have at our disposal today," he recalls. "Telescans are great machines, as are Cyberlights and Vari*Lites, which are definitely among my favorite instruments. But I always try to maintain a certain 'manual touch' in my work, so my projects are always 20-30% traditional lighting, such as ACLs or PARs."
The designer says his "bread-and-butter" work with conventionals constitutes the "human, artistic component" of lighting. Though not a hands-on programmer himself, he feels that "being able to call up a series of different cues immediately was undreamed of in those days and is a godsend now. One thing that hasn't changed is that planning, designing, and production rehearsal time never seems to be sufficient. Italian tours are often divided into summer and winter legs, which are quite often very different, so you frequently get things down to a fine art as the show travels the country. Then, just when everybody's convinced the situation couldn't be improved and all is running really well, you realize you've reached the end of the tour!"
Besides numerous domestic engagements by domestic chart-toppers and up-and-coming stars such as Massimo DiCataldo, Morgia has designed lighting for European tours by top Italian artists (including Zucchero, Eros Ramazzotti, Adriano Celentano, and Angelo Branduardi) and world tours by Elton John in 1991 and Laura Pausini this year. Even with the international performers, "my designs always tend to have an Italian look--very theatrical and very cinematic, and achieved without a great amount of hardware. Unlike in other countries, in Italy less is typically more. Sometimes that's because of budget issues, but often it's for creative reasons."
It doesn't take a lot of gear to achieve what's known as the "Morgia look," he says. "I'm particularly fond of pastel hues. I'm also in the habit of alternating white and colored ACLs on the rig, using filters rather than gels, and employing a wide variety of fixtures lifted from other non-theatrical sources such as industrial and household lighting." He offers as an example of his approach his work with Elton John, who has filled 100,000-seat arenas. "There were no budget problems there, and I was able to give the shows a theatrical look even in those large venues. But when I designed the show, after looking at the list of gear I requested, the production director asked if that was all I wanted--he'd obviously expected a much larger spec list."
The Elton John project came about thanks to Morgia's involvement in yet another field: fashion. His designs for the late Gianni Versace's shows led to a meeting with the pop superstar, who has worn Versace for years. "Versace was very struck by my lighting for singer/songwriter Fabrizio DeAndre's Nuvole show, which had a very cinematic look, so he mentioned my name to Elton John, and I finished up doing his tour."
"Though when production budgets have to be reduced, the lighting and sets are the first to be hit, I'm convinced that both play key roles in presenting an artist's songs and personality," Morgia says. "DeAndre, for example, is a very intimate singer/songwriter who up until a few years ago sang his entire show sitting on a chair. In recent concerts, however, we've come up with some really interesting ideas as far as both scenery and lighting are concerned, and the feedback has been very positive." Besides concert and tour lighting, during the many years that Morgia has worked with fellow Genoese DeAndre, projects have also included lighting design and theatrical production of videos, for artists such as Raf and Ivano Fossatti. On these he has also been director of photography and set designer.
Morgia feels that "show designer" would be a better description of his activities nowadays, as he's donned a variety of other caps through the years: set designer; DP; theatre, film, and TV producer; and art director. "In the theatrical field I've worked with Florence, Genoa, and Rome theatres, and the Nervi International Ballet Festival, among others, and personalities such as Irene Papas, Rudolf Nureyev, and Vittorio Gassman." Besides working on musical shows and documentaries as far afield as Patagonia, China, and Yemen, his TV career has ranged from a 48-hour charity telethon telecast live from Bologna's Palasport by all three national RAI TV channels, to seven editions of the annual Premio Tenco singer/songwriter contest held in San Remo.
Morgia has been the LD of the annual trade union-sponsored May Day concerts in Rome's San Giovanni Square for eight seasons now. This year's event was attended by 500,000 people, and transmitted live nationwide on RAI radio and TV. Morgia's involvement in TV through the years has also taken him to Spain, with TVE and TV Valenciana, and Greece, with programs such as Trio, Dio, Ena for ANT 1. "A setback that typically occurs when working on TV with LDs or DPs who have only worked in that sector," Morgia says, "is that they tend to use too much white light, so a lot of the colors and effects tend to get lost. I've gotten around that by being the DP, too."
Despite a hectic schedule, Morgia has found the time to get involved in fields unrelated to entertainment. These have included a three-year project for lighting the French-border town of Ventimiglia, interior and exterior lighting for Villa Fleury in Monte Carlo, and the lighting of the gardens of Caserta's Royal Palace. Morgia, who now lives in Rome, was also called in to design the lighting for the Eternal City's world-famous Trevi Fountain for its reopening following restoration work.
"Although I find work equally satisfying in every sector, my curiosity is definitely aroused by those in which I work less frequently and I'm a relative novice," Morgia says. "I love all-around designing and I'm convinced that a real LD should be able to light a school or a factory and not just shows or concerts. The more unusual projects I've worked on include a one-off at the Venice Biennial, with a five-laser show projected from a boat on the Grand Canal, and another at the Greek theatre in Siracusa, Sicily, for a televised event dedicated to Archimedes. There I used a combination of candles, torches, light guns, and lasers to create some really unique atmosphere. I'm also lighting a freeway intersection in Oman, and in Dubai I designed the lighting for a stadium in which tennis championships have been held recently. In the year 2000, Bologna has been designated the European capital of culture, and I'm working with I Guzzini on a custom fixture to be used to light its 47km [29mi] of wonderfully picturesque porticos."
Morgia is also a consultant for new permanent lighting in the Vatican's Nervi Hall. Shows held in this spectacular venue, such as the Christmas concert telecast Mondovision, which has hosted the likes of John Denver, Miriam Makeba, and Dionne Warwick, are presently lit by flying a mini truss ring from the roof. "One of the problems involved with this project is that no lights can be flown over the area in which the pontiff sits during papal audiences, so it has to be a 'removable fixed' rig." The LD is also helping to light 50 churches in the Rome area in time for the 2000 Jubilee.
Morgia's in-depth knowledge has led to this well-known industry figure's involvement in the cultural aspects of entertainment. The LD was cultural delegate following Italo-Russian artist exchanges from 1985 to 87 at the Italian embassy in Moscow, and is cultural attache in Italy for the Azores, where he has a holiday home. Despite his travels and diplomatic duties, home is very much where Morgia's heart is. With his wife, a set designer; his son, a moving lights programmer and operator; and friend and fellow lighting director Eneas "Mac" Macintosh, Morgia has founded a lighting studio which offers consultation and practical work on lighting and show design.
At present, though, Morgia is collecting more passport stamps, producing and designing the sets and lighting for the internationally acclaimed Laura Pausini on the South American leg of her world tour. The LD is never at a loss for new venues to explore his craft, whether in Italy or as his country's most artistic of attaches.
Contributing editor Mike Clark is a Scots journalist based in Rimini, Italy. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.