It's interesting to see two very different opera productions back to back in a repertory situation, such as the two I saw last week at the Los Angeles Opera. It's also interesting to note that the lighting for both was by British imports. The first was Turandot, a new production directed by Gian Carlo del Monaco and designed by Michael Scott, with lighting by Alan Burrett. The second event was an unusual double bill of Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker William Friedkin and designed by German set and costume designer Gottfried Pilz, with lighting by Paul Pyant. Both were conducted by Kent Nagano.
LA Opera's Turandot
I found the Turandot a bit dark and bloody, and oddly enough, there was a rather large design faux pas: two large pillars onstage blocked the view of a central upstage staircase where both Turandot and the Emperor stand. In fact, from my seat in the orchestra, just slightly off-center, I could not see the Emperor at all; his disembodied voice could have been coming from offstage for all the difference it made (unfortunately, his microphone kept dropping out, making the experience even odder). There were quite a few major costume changes for the chorus, but it seemed like too much at times.
Duke Bluebeard's Castle
On the other hand, the premiere of the double bill was quite well received and very boldly designed. For Duke Bluebeard's Castle, scrims, projections, and lighting combine as the castle doors open to reveal the various horrors Bluebeard has hidden there. For Gianni Schicci, the tone is brighter and comic, with a large staircase that was sinister in Bluebeard now sitting innocently outside of glass doors, and a chandelier that was on its side like a monster in Bluebeard simply hanging overhead. The two set pieces served as visual landmarks linking the two acts design-wise yet accenting their differences.--Ellen Lampert-Greaux
Seen Elsewhere in Los Angeles: ShowBiz Expo 2002, the annual film industry trade show, was looking a little thin last weekend at the Los Angeles Civic Center. The last time I attended the show, several years ago, it was filled with exhibitors from the worlds of Entertainment Design and Lighting Dimensions. But the ranks of companies showing their wares have fallen off and, indeed, a great deal of the conversation on the show floor had to do with how southern California has lost much of its film business to Vancouver, Toronto, and other venues. Factors behind this include the ramping up of production last year in anticipation of strikes, and the industry malaise post 9/11. Still, as one exhibitor said to me, the show is attended by a higher concentration of film professionals than any other, so it continues to survive.
There was also some news: GAM Products has made a new arrangement with Fisher Light to distribute some of its film lighting products for rentals in North America, Paris, and Japan, and with the company AFM Lighting for the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the Czech Republic. Power 56 is a new company that distributes film lights and made its debut at the show. Its two products, the Alpha 4K and Alpha 18K, should be out some time this summer. The LA-based company The D.A.’s Office is now handling Formatt Filters, a UK-based gel company. B&M marks the return of Bardwell and McAllister, a venerable film industry lighting company that fell on hard times. Other notable companies on hand included Rose Brand, Chimera, Lowel-Lite, LTM, Xenotech, Cinemills, Bogen, All Access Staging, Sky Cannon, Airstar, Dazian Fabrics, Focal Press, Mole-Richardson, Musco, and K5600. Check out the Online Exclusives section of the July Lighting Dimensions for a fuller report.
Meanwhile, concurrent with ShowBiz Expo, Mole-Richardson offered Moleapalooza '02, a two-day in-house extravaganza that proved to be a huge success. This is the second year for the event and rumor has it that pre-registrations topped 2,000. Visitors to the M-R facilities on North Sycamore got a look at all aspects of the company’s product line, but there was much more, including food, drink, raffles, music by three bands, presentations by top DPs Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, and the world premiere of a new 30-minute documentary film that traces the company’s history from its founding 75 years ago to today. The film, Incandescence: Peter Mole and His Legacy, is a fascinating look at a company that has retained its family-held status for three-quarters of a century even as it evolved dynamically along with the film industry. (It doesn’t hurt that the Mole archives have yielded a treasure trove of still photographs documenting the various ways films have been made over eight decades). As an informational event, a social gathering, and a machine for goodwill, Moleapalooza is something that other companies in this industry well might considering imitating.--David Barbour
Seen in San Francisco: Having just returned from Lightfair International 2002, I can confidently say, I have seen the future and it is the LED. At least that was the buzz on the show floor, where everyone and their brother unveiled a product involving those persistent little light-emitting diodes. That’s partly because everyone is now on the energy-efficiency-bandwagon—I can’t tell how many bulbs I saw that promised ridiculous levels of output with virtually no energy expended—and partly because LEDs have somehow just captured the industry buzz. Of course, Color Kinetics, the company that caught the LED wave in the entertainment industry before anyone else, showed plenty of new product, but the competition was fierce. The most notable debut was Bright Lighting, the company formed by Nils Thorjussen and Tony Gottelier to market LED products, including Color Stream™, which looks like a fluorescent tube but changes colors and generates patterns.
But plenty of other companies were on hand with a wide variety of products, including Martin Professional (with a stunning, award-winning booth), High End Systems, Super Vision (a fiber-optic company now getting into LEDS), Rosco, Philips, Osram/Sylvania, Panasonic, Lutron, Apollo, Lightronics, Space Cannon, Genlyte/Entertainment Technology, Hubbell, The Katie Group, Minolta, Prescolite, RSA, Altman, Lucifer, TIR, and Ardiis, just to name a few. ETC was also there, and won the award for biggest news, having just acquired transtechnik Lichtsysteme, which should give ETC new entrée into the rather inaccessible German market—not to mention access to all kinds of new control technology. Overall, the buzz at Lightfar was good, even if some remarked that it was a slightly smaller show with a more regional attendance than in years past. Again, check out July LD’s Online Exclusives for a fuller report.--DB
Seen on the Waterfront in Brooklyn: Pigeon puppets, animatronic ravens, back-painted glass, and more at Jerard Studio (www.jerardstudio.com), the design and fabrication studio. It was part of the Brooklyn Working Artists Coalition Carroll Gardens/Red Hook Open Studio event, held last weekend. Jerard Studio, run by John Jerard and Mary Creede, supplied the pigeon puppets and tank armatures for Broadway's The Producers, Mardi Gras masks for Thou Shalt Not, and murals and friezes for Walt Disney World, among many other projects. Exhibiting artists at the open studio included Creede and Jerard as well as a mix of current and former collaborators, including Carmel Balfe, Gaetane Bertol, Eric Cherry, Brian Schepel, and animatronics wizard Chris Webb.
Masks and murals by Jerard, paintings by Creede, gilded reproductions of Sistine Chapel figures by Bertol, and puppets by Balfe were on display; Webb allowed me to maneuver a radio-controlled raven puppet (made from pizza boxes!) and discussed his stop-motion animation work in collaboration with Jerard and Creede. Apologizing for being "a little spaced out," Jerard explained that he and Creede had just finished 60 translucent collage paintings on glass in 16 days for the new Times Square restaurant Noche.
Glass paintings at Noche
Balfe, Bertol, Creede, and Jerard also had artwork on display at BWAC's art show on the pier in Red Hook. The pier show is up for two more weekends; it's worth the trip for the view alone. For more information about BWAC, go to the website: www.bwac.org .--Liz French
Seen at the Movies: We're going through a ho-hum stretch between blockbusters in film releases right now. This week's openings include a second-tier Jerry Bruckheimer action thriller and a southern fried you'll laugh/you'll cry item that epitomizes the term chick flick. According to the Internet Movie Database, the thriller is the 12th feature film—and the fifth in the last decade—to carry the title Bad Company. The company in this case is the CIA, but the title could apply to the movie itself. Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock star, with the latter supplying jokes whenever the director, Joel Schumacher, gets bored with the plot, which finds Manhattan threatened by nuclear weapon-armed terrorists. For obvious reasons, the film was delayed from last fall, but it should have been shelved altogether.
I found the Louisiana-set chick flick, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, much easier to take, since its characters are more intent on self-destruction than on mass destruction. Adapted from the popular Rebecca Wells novel, Ya-Ya is the feature directorial debut of Thelma and Louise scribe Callie Khouri, and benefits from a high-wattage female cast, including Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, and Cherry Jones. (James Garner and Angus MacFadyen have the only male roles of note.) Bullock is a playwright feuding with mom Burstyn, and Smith, Flanagan, and Knight are the Ya-Ya sisters. Acting honors go to Judd, who plays Burstyn's character in flashbacks, which are the only scenes in the film that don't feel thoroughly synthetic. DP John Bailey does uncharacteristically erratic work here, with some over-bright lighting giving the movie even more of a sitcom air. Still, Bailey, production designer David J. Bomba, costume designer Gary Jones, and makeup and hair department heads Felicity Bowring and Jeri Baker-Sadler do nice jobs of differentiating the time periods.--John Calhoun
Heard at Strand Lighting: A visit to the new Strand Lighting factory in Cypress, CA, revealed a bright facility not too far from Disneyland. Current projects for Strand include lighting for a new Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia that will be used while the old Bolshoi is renovated over the next five years, as well as additional television studios for Media City, located outside of Cairo, Egypt, where every light is on its own 40' collapsing "telescope," each of which is individually controlled. Closer to home, Strand is working on the ongoing lighting system for the Crystal Cathedral, and recently supplied the lighting for the Oklahoma City Performing Arts Center, in conjunction with Fisher Dachs Associates. In addition, Strand is involved in the lighting systems for the new Miami Performing Arts Center, also with Fisher Dachs. It was nice to see both Peter Rogers and Phil O'Donnell in their offices at Strand, a rare occurrence what with the crazy travel schedules they keep.--ELG
Heard From Hollywood: Movie science-fiction buffs who can see beyond the realms of Lucas and Kubrick revere the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Solaris, which dwells on possibly more of a metaphysical plane than even 2001. What the American remake, which stars George Clooney and recently started shooting for 20th Century Fox, will do with this material is anyone's guess. But it's a good sign that Steven Soderbergh, one of the most intelligent of Hollywood filmmakers, is writing and directing; he's also listed as the movie's editor and, as on Traffic and Ocean's Eleven, director of photography. Production designer is Philip Messina, costume designer is Milena Canonero, and Cinesite will be working on the visual effects.--JC