Opera returns to the San Francisco area with the support of Elation Lighting with IP protection
United States The live opera returned to the San Francisco Bay this spring with a series of Covid-compliant outdoor performances by the San Francisco Opera of “The Barber of Seville” with the support of IP protective lights from Elation. With Covid restrictions on indoor gatherings, the opera company secured the Marin Center drive-in in San Rafael, where opera fans gathered in their cars to watch the Rossini classic.
Director Matthew Ozawa’s 90-minute adaptation, in which singers return to the opera house after a pandemic to bring the opera back to life, ran from April 23 to May 15. Guests can view the performance from either a live opera lot with a direct view of the performance or a simulcast lot with a view of a drive-in screen. The car capacity for each show was 300+.
The resident lighting director of the San Francisco Opera (SFO) is Justin Partier, while JAX Messenger, a former employee of SFO, acted as the lighting designer for the production of “The Barber”. Since the outdoor set was also used on days off for concerts by artists based in SFO, the two designers, who had been friends since working on Broadway, made lighting decisions together.
The opera’s fast action takes place in an adapted version of a set originally intended for the new production of Beethoven’s Fidelio at the San Francisco Opera, which has been postponed due to the pandemic. Messenger, who was on Fidelio’s creative team, says elements of the flexible set have moved to barber production. “SFO was still building the set and when they came up with the idea of doing a drive-in hairdresser, they asked us to find a way to use our ideas for this project,” he said. “We adapted the tools they had already built for Barber with the more aggressive elements of Fidelio.
The barber production and eagle shows took place on a 120-foot festival stage that was built on-site for the performances. Four sliding video screens were an integral part of the set, with two additional large video screens on either side of the stage serving as IMAG. According to Messenger, Barber needed bright, moving light, while the need to adapt to an outdoor venue and the rain or sun performances required the use of weatherproof lighting. Elation’s 50,000-lumen Proteus Maximus was equipped with 56 spotlights deployed from FOH and over stage trusses, as well as from audience towers that had a 90-foot throw to the stage deck. “From an artistic point of view, I like bright things. I’d rather be at the control desk and know that every keyword has some teeth, ”explains Messenger. “Maybe I’m getting old right now, but conventional devices just don’t look like much to me anymore.”
When he first used the Maximus, Partier confirms that the device’s performance was critical. “The intensity was really important,” he said. “We were hoping to be able to do a moving light preset and focus during the day to keep up with the crazy opera schedule, and while this wasn’t always possible due to the brilliant California sun, we were able to do so a good portion of the time in do the afternoons under the roof with the Maximus. “He adds that brightness was also critical for the IMAG video as some of the cars were so far away.
Another reason for choosing the Proteus Maximus was its all-weather IP65 rating. “We needed the IP rating, but it just felt like we weren’t compromising and that was great,” says Messenger. “Whatever I had to do for Barber worked out well, and what Justin had to do with the concerts worked because we had such a high degree of flexibility.”
In opera, Partier says high color rendering and color temperature adjustment are important, two features that the Maximus offers and something that he says were widely used. As the interaction between the singers was restricted due to Covid restrictions, media content on the video walls played a bigger role. It was media with which LD Messenger knew it had to create color coordinates or color contrasts. “I wanted the color variety and rendering to be high because I wanted to be able to exaggerate in a love moment and exaggerate in a comedy moment,” he explains. “The power and color of the Maximus gave us that flexibility and I was happy with the color we were able to achieve. They gave us some nice greens and nice golds and were very useful. “
With multiple LED lights in the spec and two layers of live recording – live video embedded in the architecture of the set and live recording on a giant screen in the simulcast lot – the cameraman had the added challenge of white balance. Messenger says, “But the equipment delivered.”
“Sharp edges and a good zoom were also important,” Partier adds. “They were great for the interior scenes as the front and fill lights, as well as the upper level backlight for the upper and front upper front rooms of the stage.”
Another workhorse in the specification was 92 SixBar 1000 IP lights, Elation’s meter-long six-colored LED batten that were used in a variety of ways. Partier explains: “They were the main light in all of the rooms on the sides and on top of the upper level and on top of the lower level. We also used two rows to illuminate the lower level translucent panels as two basic rows. Some fixings were placed between doors and cover surfaces to illuminate the latter. “The SixBars were also used as soft backstage spotlights to create an old-fashioned front light source. “They provided some bright pinks and low-temperature natural ambers that were really beautiful,” Messenger said. The designers also used the lights to mix highly saturated colors for more theatrical moments.
Further Elation devices in the SFO Drive-In-Rig were 33 Fuze PAR Z120 IP units as door lighting and running lights, while 26 DTW Blinder 350 IP 2-Lites and 20 DTW Blinder 700 IP 4-Lites acted as house and work lights. Felix Lighting’s Brisbane, Northern California office supplied all of the lighting. Lighting technicians and stagehands were all from IATSE Local 16.
Opera’s return to the San Francisco area, the company’s first live performances in 16 months, was a huge success. Critics praised Ozawa’s shortened “best of” adjustment and, not least, the efforts to carry it out under Covid’s restrictive guidelines. “I think the show was a triumph,” concludes Messenger, who said the project had an exciting feeling ahead of the opening night. “It was beautiful, the audience loved it, it was fun and everyone seemed to enjoy the approach we took, but the real triumph lies with the SFO administration. You accepted a laundry list of Covid challenges and got everything working. “
Photos: Drew Altizer and Stefan Cohen