When I walked into the Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory, a cavernous military hall-cum-gallery and performance space that once served as the headquarters for the New York State Militia's Seventh Regiment, I was confronted by a wall of pipe and stairs. This was, in fact, the back of the rostrum, a 974-seat moving audience riser that sat on railroad tracks the length of the block-long building. I walked around to the front of the riser and climbed the stairs to my seat for the Lincoln Center Festival presentation of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten. Directed by David Poutney and conducted by Steven Sloane, this production premiered at Germany's RuhrTriennale in the Jahrhunderthall in Bochum on October 4, 2006 and was designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, with lighting by Wolfgang Goebbel, costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca, and sound by Holger Schwark.
Considered with Berg's Lulu and Schoenberg's Moses und Aron to be the third most important 12-tone opera composition, Die Soldaten is an immense work with a 120-member symphony. Originally conceived to be performed on 12 separate stages with a surrounding audience, intense soundscape, and multimedia elements, the production premiered in 1965 but had never before been presented in a form so close to Zimmermann's original vision.
This production took place on a 9'-wide stage that ran the entire length of the building, bisecting the rostrum. The idea of this, according to set designer Hopkins, was to not transform the space. “We sat straight down the middle of the space and let it be the environment,” he says. The audience moved throughout the piece, tracking all the way upstage to the far end in the course of the overture and then back along the platform throughout the first act. The movement of the riser along the stage was timed with the music, almost imperceptibly supporting the emotion of the piece. The floor treatment changed along the length of the deck, communicating location to the audience.
The challenges of mounting a production of this scale in a limited time are nearly unimaginable, especially in such a non-traditional performance space. In 2000, the World Monuments Fund named the Armory one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world, the only New York venue on the list. Michael Sapsis of Sapsis Rigging Inc., who led the rigging team, notes that the space has very specific load requirements, including “where and how you can hang equipment and the types of forces you can apply to their building. We spent a lot of time making sure we were within their parameters.”
Sapsis and his team used 3,000' of black 20" truss, 100' of black 12" truss (a mix from Tomcat and James Thomas Engineering), and 156 CM Lodestar chain motors. They also hung thousands of feet of Black Encore Velour drapery, provided by Rose Brand, in sizes up to 40' high, to mask and create the necessary production spaces. The Armory had no support spaces when the production arrived. The production team had to create everything from backstage to dressing rooms, including putting up tents inside the old National Guard armament storage bunkers.
The translation of this production to the Park Avenue Armory was a masterpiece in planning, preparation, and problem solving. The Armory is 100' shorter than Germany's Jahrhunderthall. As Paul King, production manager for the Lincoln Center Festival, notes, “They couldn't just lop off 100' of walking surface. It would have been aesthetically unacceptable.” It also would have made the timing of the staging and audience movement extremely different. Instead, the collaborative teams from Germany and New York conceived a T-shaped playing space, putting the missing 100' along the east, or Lexington Avenue, end of the Armory. After the first three scenes played on the top of the T, the action began to move down the center playing space.
The Armory also lacks a definitive feature of the Jahrhunderthall: a huge window at the far end of the space through which light had been shot to fully backlight the stage and, at times, blind the audience. Lighting designer Goebbel's ideas from the beginning involved “big HMI lanterns blinding the audience, [so that] the audience should feel the pain in the rape scene. They should feel the brutality of it.” When confronted with the new space in New York, Goebbel says, “My first thought was that there was no big window, but then I thought, ‘Build one.’ It was much smaller but very effective.” Daedalus Design and Production fabricated the scenic window piece for the New York production. Goebbel carried the audience blinder idea into the Armory, hanging three LTM 6kW Cinepars over the performance space, with two 4kW Arri HMI Compact Theatre Fresnels backlighting the scenic window for that punch that everyone missed from Germany.
The Cinepars represented the largest single change in the lighting equipment translation between Germany and New York. In Bochum, the Cinepars had been 12kW with custom-built Robert Juliat dimming shutters borrowed from the Bregenz Festival. Chris Daly of PRG, who provided the lighting equipment for the festival, was unable to find a suitable substitute for those shutters in the United States. Every brand that he tried melted within minutes in front of the Cinepars. And the original shutters at Bregenz were already in use for the summer. Stan Pressner, lighting coordinator for the Lincoln Center Festival, and Goebbel worked together to come up with an adequate substitution, arriving at the three 6kW Cinepars with dimming shutters. The shutters they ended up using with the 6kW Fresnels were much slower than the Juliats, so Goebbel added some high-powered strobes for the storm scene.
There were other complications in the Armory. Large windows near the ceiling lit the space for much of the daytime tech rehearsals. Scheduling precluded rehearsing at night, and covering the windows just for rehearsals was not a realistic possibility. In spite of the challenges of the space, Goebbel and Pressner are both extremely happy with the results. The lighting design involved extensive use of moving lights, mainly Vari-Lite VL1000 Spots and Martin Professional MAC 2000 Washes, and the rig was run on an MA Lighting grandMA console. The extensive lighting team included lighting associate Ben Hagen, production electrician Neal McShane, and electrician-on-site Paul Koltoff.
The supertitles were also shown on large flat-screen monitors, suspended with the central speaker cluster from a James Thomas Engineering Supermegatruss 73' clear span that traveled with the rostrum. The original idea for the supertitles involved an LED sign hanging underneath the main speaker cluster, but when Pressner saw the system, he was unhappy with its reliability. “We took it down and called Jack Young at New City Video [for a new system], and it was all there that afternoon,” says Pressner, adding this ended up being “a much better supertitle system,” consisting of two 70" plasma screens mounted to the truss and two 50" plasma screens below, with the titles run via two Apple MacBook Pros.
The sound design was much more involved in New York than in Bochum. The conductor and the bulk of the orchestra sat stage right, with a small percussion section at stage left. A live jazz band also sat on stage. Sound designer Schwark aimed to make it always feel that the sound was coming from its acoustic sources, either musicians or singers. Because of the scale of the space and the distance between performers and audience, wireless microphones amplified the singing, but it couldn't sound that way. As the festival's sound coordinator David Meschter explains, “There's something about American opera fans that is different from anywhere else in the world. They are so adamant about preventing technology from poisoning their art.”
The entire sound system was run through the new DiGiCo SD7 console. Because of the scale of the production, the team traded up from the DiGiCo D5 they had used in Germany. The New York production had 131 inputs and 86 output busses. According to Meschter, the console was so new that the manual had not yet been released. As expected, there was a very steep learning curve and a number of logistical problems, like finding out at the last minute that it could not yet send digital information through a fiber-optic cable. The distance limit for standard coaxial cable is about 150' short of the distance Meschter needed to run through the 300'-long unbroken umbilical that traveled with the rostrum. They finally ordered a new custom cable that's used by the BBC and had it shipped from England. It arrived at New York's JFK Airport a mere four hours before it needed to be hung.
There was also the additional element of effects in the show. In Zimmermann's original score, he called for an extremely complicated soundscape over the final moments of the opera. The soundscape that Schwark created was, according to Meschter, “as true to the original as possible. Holger worked very closely with the conductor and other experts to make sure that they were being true to the score. It was really about honoring the score.” He even used part of the recording from the original 1965 production, in which Zimmermann was involved, anda then augmented it when parts were missing.
With the musicians scattered throughout the space, performers moving in relation to the orchestra, and the conductor's back to the playing space, it was necessary to have video monitors throughout for both the conductor and the performers. This video monitoring system was the domain of the sound department. In installing this system, a latency in the signal became apparent depending on the size and brand of the LCD screens and cameras. The latency was small, nearly imperceptible, unless a performer was looking at several screens at once. “It was disconcerting for the performers not to see a clear down beat,” says Meschter. “As long as we kept all the monitors the same size, the monitor delay was okay for the performers because they always saw the same image.”
Not only was the space larger than most, at 285' from wall to wall, but no one on this team had ever laid railroad track before. For King, the biggest technical challenge came in the moving audience risers, or the rostrum. The structural platform and motors came with the production from Germany. Before the move, because the Armory is actually wider than the original space, the rostrum had to be expanded. “The challenge was marrying these two systems that had never met each other before,” says King. “It wasn't a challenge to actually install it; it was a challenge to design it.” The seating system was provided by Seating Solutions of Long Island, NY. All of the weight from the seating riser had to hit the weight-bearing intersection beams of the original platform. Inevitably, the seating vendor ended up installing additional structural beams to provide the necessary support.
According to Sapsis, another challenge was the variety of motors that came in. “There was an entirely different set of motors from Germany to run the rostrum,” he says. “There wasn't any automation. Simple motors — that was it — no computer control, no limit switches. The motors did have an acceleration and deceleration but [were] not controlled by a computer.” The rostrum rolled on 282 individual wheels and 12 drive motors and weighed approximately 250,000lbs (125 tons). Jeff Turner, IATSE Local One stagehand and head carpenter, was responsible for installing the almost 3,000' of railroad track for those 282 wheels to ride. Tolerances on the tracks were within a millimeter in height and 2 to 3mm right to left. The Armory floor, at its highest point, differed from its lowest point by almost 4½". Turner had a crew of four Local One stagehands who leveled the track every 5' over all 12 runs of track.
The two things that make a production for this scale possible are preparation and trust. King, Pressner, and many other members of the staff traveled to Germany to see a second presentation of the opera in Bochum in 2007. They met extensively with the German team over scheduling and design details. King, production coordinator C. Townsend Olcott II, and much of the Lincoln Center Festival team have worked together for years and have an implicit faith in each other's abilities and ideas. Likewise, both Robert Innes Hopkins and Wolfgang Goebbel had worked with David Poutney before. Much time was spent in the planning stages, from mapping the load-in to extensive revisiting of every drawing.
King advises anyone approaching a site-specific production of this scale take this advice: “Look at every corner of every space, every room, and note and photograph and draw every possible aspect of that space even before you begin to design the installation.” The American team worked closely with the technicians, designers, and staff from Germany, and all were excited about working on such an important piece of art. As Turner notes, “It's the kind of thing that needs to be done for art's sake. That's the thing that Lincoln Center Festival is great for. Otherwise, we lose a little bit of our humanity. It's nice to be involved with art like that.”
SELECTED GEAR FOR DIE SOLDATEN
Vendor: PRG - Chris Daly
2 MA Lighting grandMA Lighting Consoles
2 MA Lighting grandMA NSPs
1 ETC 96 × 2.4kW Sensor Rolling/Dimmer Rack
1 ETC 72 × 2.4kW Sensor Rolling/Dimmer Rack
1 ETC 48 × 2.4kW Sensor Rolling/Dimmer Rack
1 ETC 12 × 2.4kW Sensor Rolling/Dimmer Rack
45 Vari-Lite VL1000 Spot AS
14 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash
6 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal 10°
54 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal 19°
8 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal 26°
82 ETC Source Four PAR NSP
68 ETC Source Four PAR MFL
48 ETC Source Four PAR WFL
124 PAR64 ACL
2 3kW Strobes
2 ARRI 4kW HMI Compact Theatre Fresnel w/ DMX Dimming Shutter & Barn Door
3 LTM 6kW Cinepar w/DMX Dimming Shutter & Barn Door
15 L&E 6' MR16 Striplight
13 Single Dimmable Fluorescent Fixture
38 Mini-Ten 300W Frosted w/ Barndoors
3 Look Solutions Unique 2 Hazers
2 MDG Atmosphere Hazers
Vendor: Sapsis Rigging
3,000' Black 20" Truss (Tomcat and James Thomas Engineering)
100' Black 12" Truss
156 CM Lodestar Chain Motors
Vendors: Audio Production Services - Simon Nathan; PRG Audio - David Strang
1 DiGiCo SD7 Console
1 Yamaha DM 2000 Digital Console
2 Yamaha DME64N DSP Engine
21 Meyer Sound UPM-1P UltraCompact Wide Coverage Speakers
31 Meyer Sound M1D UltraCompact Curvilinear Array Speakers
9 Meyer Sound CQ1 Wide Coverage Mains Speakers
32 EAW JF80 Speakers
24 L-Acoustics Kiva Ultra Compact Line Source Array Speakers
18 L-Acoustics dV-DOSC Elements Speakers
2 L-Acoustics dV-SUB Subwoofers
1 L-Acoustics 108P Reference Self-Powered Monitor
8 JBL VerTec VT 4880 Subwoofers
6 Custom 492'Low Loss Coax MADI Cables
1 Lexicon 480L Reverb Effects Processor
24 Shure Wireless UHF-R Series RF Bodypack Systems
4 Sennheiser SK 5012 Wireless Bodypack Transmitters
26 DPA 4062-F Miniature Omnidirectional Microphones
3 Sennheiser MKH40 Microphones
3 Sennheiser MKH50 Microphones
4 Neumann TLM103 Condenser Microphones
1 Neumann KMR 81I Shotgun Microphone
19 Neumann AK40 W/KM100 Preamp Microphones
24 Neumann KM184 Cardioid Microphones
2 Neumann KMS150 Microphones
4 Neumann TLM170R Condenser Microphones
1 Neumann KM150 Microphone
11 AKG C414B Microphones
4 B&K DPA4007 Microphones
3 Schoeps MK41 Microphone W/CMC6 Capsules
Vendors: PRG Video - Art Lavis
New City Video - Jack Young;
2 Sony 3-Chip Industrial Cameras w/18X Cannon Lens
2 Camera Sony CCU T×7
1 Sony BRC-H700 HD 3CCD Color Video Camera
8 Videotek VDA-16 Composite Video Distribution Amplifiers
2 Extron VDA DA6RGBHV
1 Extron 2×1 RBHVCC Composite Video Switcher
1 Sierra Composite 8×8 Router
1 DSC 1024HD Scan Converter
1 FFV F22Timecode Generator
11 Humbucker Video Clarity
5 Humbucker Video 5CH
2 Apple MacBook Pro
2 70" Plasma Screens
2 50" Plasma Screens
1 Riedel Communications Artist Digital Matrix Intercom System
8 Riedel Intercom Control Panels
1 Riedel 4-Channel Motorola Interface
1 Clear-Com MS440 Four Channel Main Station
10 Clear-Com RS501 Beltpack / Headset
8 Telex BTR800 Wireless Intercom
24 Motorola GP344 Walkie Talkies
8 Cue Lights w/Control
As promised in the September issue, here is a supplemental video to accompany "War Crimes," the site-specific opera at the Lincoln Center Festival at the Park Avenue Armory.