Last summer the Lincoln Center Festival presented two very different productions of Hildegard von Bingen's Ordo Virtutum (The Order of the Virtues). German-based group Sequentia performed its version in a Gothic-style church, with dramatically simple lighting by Moritz von Rappard (pictured). The Hildegurls, a downtown musical group, combined Hildegard's ethereal harmonies with rock instruments for its Electronic Ordo Virtutum. This high-tech treatment included angular, saturated lighting by Marcus Doshi.
Von Rappard studied theatre at the University of Cologne. "We concentrated on semiotics and theatre history," he says. "It's a small department, we only had two professors who lectured, but you had the chance to ask for any subject you wanted." He apprenticed with Cologne Opera LD Magnus Roesch, who at the time was designing a production for Franz-Josef Heumannskamper, who went on to become the stage director for Sequentia.
"The most perfect thing would be if you could understand the story concentrating only on the lighting," von Rappard says. "It's mostly important to work with an audience in a specific room or atmosphere." It was decided that the light should be diffused, in order not to call special attention to any one character, and to lend a spiritual quality to the piece. He placed the lights in a large circle around the space at varying heights, so that as the lighting rises higher the shadows become smaller. Because Ordo would tour Europe and the US and be performed mostly in churches, he chose equipment generic enough for any local lighting company to supply, and flexible enough to adapt to the various floor plans he would encounter. His typical equipment list included six 2k fresnels, six 2k profile spots with various beam widths, 11 light stands, and a manual control board.
Doshi is studying lighting design at the Yale School of Drama; he was Stan Pressner's assistant during the Festival, and Pressner gave him the Hildegurls project."The thing about theatre that I love is that it's a collaborative artform," says Doshi. "Grethe Holby the director had a very clear vision of what she wanted to see, so there was an underlying structure to the lighting that I was able to tap into."
The set platform was painted with a mandala-like illuminated artwork attributed to Hildegard, and in the center was a 2'-diameter Plexiglas dome. Doshi started with a basic plot of blue color-corrected light, then added red diagonal backlight and red MR-16s under the platform and the center dome for the Devil's scenes. He created even more dramatic color tension with teal back diagonals, MR-16 footlights in light green, plus "something I call the Stan Pressner secret weapon--low-angle frontlight with saturated blue," Doshi says. "It was very useful because it gave their white clothing some dimension." Celestial special effects in one scene were provided by 12 ETC Source Fours pointed down and irised very tightly to create shimmering white columns representing the various Virtues.