September is a rather busy month for Jeff Kleeman, technical director at the Los Angeles Opera. He is constantly juggling at least three operas to get the season open, with a revival of Traviata first up, followed by new productions of Don Carlo and Manon in quick succession on stage at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (The Music Center of Los Angeles).
Morality, social revolution, and the conflict between church and state set the stage for Verdi's 1867 opera, Don Carlo, which is based on a play by Friedrich Schiller. The sets, built by the San Diego Opera scenic studios, were designed by John Gunter, with costumes by Tim Goodchild and lighting by Duane Schuler. “The set is modular, with tower-like elements that play in different configurations,” explains Kleeman. “It has the appearance of hundreds of arches that go off into the distance. As the towers move, the appearance of the set changes from exteriors and hallways to tight interiors and even a jail cell. It's very clever.”
Massenet's Manon, first performed in Paris in 1884, is the passionate tale of a young woman torn between a life of luxury and her true love. With sets designed by Johannes Leiacker, costumes by Susan Hilferty, and lighting by Duane Schuler, this Manon was imported from Germany, as a co-production with Berlin's Staatsoper unter der Linden. “A series of black portals frame a black set with several large platforms that appear in reconfigured positions, creating terraces for playing areas,” notes Kleeman. “Drops, walls, staircases, and draperies come in from left and right, with furniture and props to set the specific scenes.”
Kleeman notes that all of the LA Opera's locally built sets are put out to bid and that San Diego builds roughly one third of them. Coming up later this season is a new production of Hansel and Gretel, built by RA Reed Productions in Portland, OR. When not on stage, the productions are stored in 40' moisture-controlled sea containers. “We have a stack of 300 of them, stretching from the opera house to the harbor,” says Kleeman, who works with a crew of 45 to 50 people to meet the demands of the season. “We run into various physical and logistical challenges as we push the envelope of our productions.”