Putting An Opera Together, Part II

The second part of a series looking at what it takes to put on an opera on the stage by San Diego Director of Production, Ron Allen. You can read the first part here. Up above is a design sketch from Act II of Don Quixote.

There are some advantages to a rented production. You know what you are getting; most of the technical problems have been worked out and it is much cheaper than building new. A rented production will cost $40,000 - $80,000 for sets and costumes. A new production usually cost a minimum of $300,000 and often cost as much as $1 million or more. (Ian has often complained he could build a house for that amount of money. I explain, yes, he could but a house doesn’t have to be engineered and built to take down and put in the back of trucks afterwards or to rotate or change into another house in 20 minutes.)

The biggest issues with a rental production are – the set is someone else’s vision and not the companies and how will it look in our theatre. We can usually find a rental production that meets the quality standard we want to present on stage and often you can have a choice of traditional and abstract productions to choose. But sometimes there is a problem. After presenting our non-traditional “Madama Butterfly”, we wanted to find a traditional production (pretty little house on the hill) but were unable to locate one that we felt was appropriate. Many productions had been reduced to oversized shogi screens for the entire opera. We felt our production – even though non –traditional – was still more interesting than what we saw in other companies.

There is also the problem of making sure the sets fit our theatre. Before we make a final decision on renting a set, we “draw” the production into our theatre. As our backstage storage is limited, we also have to be sure we can store Acts Two and Three when Act One is on stage and have enough space left over to shuffle the sets and get Act Two in place before the 20 minute intermission ends. Or if there is a scene change, can we make that change in 4 minutes or less? And if the set has rear projection, do we have enough space so the projectors can project on the rear projection screen without other scenery (or artists) being in the way? And then there’s the sightline issue. Because the seating area in the Civic is so wide, we have to be careful that everyone can see the action on stage. We got surprised when our last Salome production had a wall on stage left that blocked some of the good stuff from the people sitting on the right side of the auditorium. In the original theatre it was not an issue because the seating was narrower. So now as we are considering a rental set, we draw in sightlines on the ground plans to see if there is an issue. Plus the sightlines are on the plans we give the director so he can understand where all the important stuff must be staged so the most people can fully see the action.

So we have many of the singers in place for our season. We have a budget and we have found a production that we like (or a director and designers for a new production). What’s next? We wait...

~ And you will have to wait as well, as Part III of "Putting An Opera Together" will run shortly.


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