Director Jack O'Brien, set designer Douglas W. Schmidt, costume designer Jess Goldstein, and lighting designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer all made their company debuts this season when The Metropolitan Opera revived Giacomo Puccini's triple bill of one acts, Il Trittico, which premiered at The Met in 1918. This collaboration marks a decided shift at The Met toward a more theatrical design style, which served Puccini well in this evening of romance, betrayal, salvation, and comedy that takes place in three very different settings. Shown in select movie theatres as part of The Met's series of HD broadcasts, Il Trittico also premieres on PBS stations this month.
A barge on the Seine in Paris is the central design element for Il Tabarro (The Cloak). The time period was moved up to September 1927, with the barge anchored beneath one of the famous Paris bridges, on a forced perspective set of factory façades. The light moves from afternoon through sunset to night. “The light of the factory windows comes from inside but looks as if it was reflecting off the building. It is a complete illusion,” notes Eisenhauer. The color palette moves from the reds and oranges of sunset to an ominous deep green for night, accented by the streetlights on the bridge. “Our task was to blend the layers of the perspective on the set, which was so beautifully designed,” Eisenhauer says. “The illusion of depth is so smooth color-wise.”
Suor Angelica is set in a convent in Tuscany in 1938, with a large church façade upstage and arched colonnades on the sides. “Since we had made such strong color choices for Il Tabarro, we didn't want to use the same palette here, although the time also shifts from day to night. We went for a more romantic look, moving from sunny yellow to a blue sky with some purple,” says Eisenhauer. Candles in niches on the church façade and a statue of Madonna and child lit about the doorway heighten the lighting at the end, when Sister Angelica has a miraculous vision. “The scene is a little mysterious; it is not realistic,” notes Eisenhauer, pointing out that they used The Met's standard rep plot with the exception of renting one 6kW Arri HMI Fresnel for the miracle scene.
Italy 1959: The death of Buoso Donati brings his greedy relatives to his bedside to share in his wealth in Gianni Schicchi. Schmidt created a seedy bedroom in a period palazzo yet added modern touches such as a plastic portable TV. The coup de grace is when the entire room sinks down to reveal a second complete set with a balustrade overlooking a formal garden and backdrop of Florence. “This is some of the best perspective you can imagine,” says Eisenhauer. “The garden is maybe one-third of the stage depth but looks like it goes on forever. The built-in perspective is very foreshortened.” The sky in the backdrop was painted quite beautifully as well. “We didn't have to create that with light as we usually do,” Eisenhauer notes. “We simply enhanced the colors with light.”