Returning to the Bregenz Festival's floating stage on Lake Constance in Austria — from July 23 to August 23 — is an astonishing new vision of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, which premiered at the festival last summer. Thanks to the combined ingenuity of director Philipp Himmelmann and set designer Johannes Leiacker, the visual centerpiece of the entire production is a giant eye built into a sturdy steel framework 165' wide by 85' high.
Actually, the entire stage is wider than this on either side, with wrought-iron gates stage-right to indicate the entrance into the choir of the church of Santa Maria del' Valle, where Mario Cavaradossi is painting his portrait of St. Mary Magdalene, or just her eye, in this case. The rest of his immense canvas flops over the stage surface and almost into the waters of Lake Constance. Created by Studio Brighella in Vienna, the image was enlarged from Leiacker's designs onto thousands of yards of canvas and then moved to Bregenz.
The entire back wall, or eye wall, which weighs some 200 tons, can be folded back flat silently and swiftly, thanks to hydraulic pistons that rotate it on two giant axle-pivots. The eye wall is not the only part of the set that can move. The iris of the giant eye is mobile, set in motion by a great backstage crane — 65' long — that is also hydraulically operated. The iris is 40' wide, and it can move forward, out of the wall and its eye-socket, upward and downward, either standing vertically or moving to a horizontal position to provide an acting surface for the Palazzo Farnese scene.
For the Te Deum sequence in Act One, the third major movable element of the set comes into action. This is the large metal cross, which has been hidden in a horizontal position in the lake waters in front of the stage. It is 45' high and weighs 12 tons. Hydraulic controls also activate the cross, silently and swiftly. In order to work way-up-high on the eye, the singer playing Mario has a Malerlift — or a 16'-wide window washer cable-hung bridge — that can rise from stage level to the 85' summit of the eye wall in 50 seconds.
Several metal works and shops in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, including Biedenkapp Stahlbau, Steurer, Geiger Technik, and Nüssli, built the various components of the set, with the hydraulics provided by two companies — Assfalg and Haberkorn. Popp Automatisierung, Vögel Systems, Kichel & Hagleitner, and Früh AG Steueranlagen provided the automation and control systems.
Michael Schernigg of the Bregenzer Festspiele and Stefan Kuerzel, an Austria-based media server specialist, programmed the images on a 144sq-m. LED wall in the iris of the eye. The two LED screens that create the surface of the wall move in from the sides and meet in the center of the eye, when the painted iris is moved out of the way. The Swiss design team of Evita Galanou, Ueli Nüesch, and Thomas Wollenberger created the images, and Gundermann Mikroelektroik provided the transparent 40mm outdoor LED wall.
A coolux Pandoras Box media server synchronizes to the video wall. “The Pandoras Box plays back at 50Hz due to the video wall's software,” says Kuerzel. “In a room behind the stage, an external HDV camera provides offstage live feeds. The signal feeds to the server via the optional SD SDI input card.”
By using only one output of the server, the timeline sequencing and cue programming feature of Pandoras Box is shown on the second video output, enabling the show to run in standalone mode.
Due to the key role of projections in the second act, a second synchronized media server runs in parallel for backup. To switchover between the two machines, a KVM switch was installed. A PANI BP6 projector and two Christie Roadster S+16K projectors add another layer of video via front projection.
Davy Cunningham designed the lighting for Tosca, with a rig including eight Martin Exterior 600s, two Martin MAC 2000 Performance units, six Martin MAC 2000 Wash luminaires, four 6kW ARRI Sun fixtures, and three 3kW Ushio Xenon followspots. The lighting adds a dramatic operatic atmosphere under the watchful eye of the set, which will appear in the new James Bond film, Quantum of Solace — in a scene shot with 007 Daniel Craig and the floating stage in Bregenz.