Roman Shades For Respighi’s Roman Trilogy

Rome Opera Theatre’s annual outdoor summer season is staged in the famous red brick ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, the largest thermae in the world when completed in 217 AD. The huge 27-acre complex was functional for more than 300 years, encompassing enormous buildings, with huge frescoed vaults covering the large rooms and bathing facilities, seats for more than 1,600 people, gymnasiums, libraries, gardens, art galleries, restaurants, and even brothels. It is a spectacle in its own right and has been the backdrop for the theatre’s summer seasons since 1937.

This year the program opened with a truly unique event: a version of composer Ottorino Respighi’s Roman Trilogy (“Fountains of Rome,” “Pines of Rome,” and “Roman Festivals”) by controversial Catalan group La Fura dels Baus (FdB). The 102 members of the Rome Opera orchestra were conducted by world-famous Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra) and accompanied by high-impact video projections based on the contents of the three symphonic poems. Production company Castillo de Elsinor’s technical director David Pascual was executive producer at the Rome event. “Producer Valentin Proczynski [president of Old And New Montecarlo Spectacles D’Art] had the initial idea and contacted La Fura dels Baus to create the show to debut at Valencia’s Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofia, which co-produced the spectacle, directed by FdB founder member Carlus Padrissa,” says Pascual. “Video director Emmanuel Carlier is a longtime regular FdB collaborator.”

The dramatic video footage shown on the 50'x30' PVC screen, shot with Phantom Gold and Red One cameras in studios in Spain and onsite in Rome, included high-impact effects and slow-motion sequences in which actors and animals were seamlessly transformed into the statues of the famous Roman Fountains in one part of the trilogy, as well as an animated sequence showing an army of pines marching down Rome’s Appian Way, a nod to Walt Disney’s use of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” in Fantasia.

“To play out the video content in sync with the music, we chose Figure 53’s, based on a ‘go’ system,” Pascual continues. “After pre-programming all the sequences, effects, fade-outs, fade-ins, etc., during the show, the operator just clicks on ‘go’ to play out the various cues’ footage. In Rome, we used an Apple Mac Mini as a control system and an eight-core Mac Pro to store and manage the footage.” Video contractor TVI srl supplied the 30,000 ANSI-lumen projector installed 180' from the stage—a Christie Digital Roadie HD+30K —with another identical unit as a spare.

Sound contractor Sonus Audio Services of Rome supplied a predominantly L-Acoustics rig for the 3,500-strong audience. The main system featured two hangs of nine Kudo systems each; the delay set-up had six dV-DOSC per side; the bottom end was handled by eight SB118 and six SB218 subwoofers; and a pair of 115XT HiQs were used for down-fill coverage. Ten Sonus Sat 0.5.6 enclosures designed and built in-house by the Sonus Audio Services performed front-fill chores. FOH engineer Enrico Porcelli had the unenviable task of mixing the sound of the 102 musicians—the score features an impressive ten percussionists—and assigned the various sections of the orchestra (using a combination of Schoeps CMC 6 mic amps plus Schoeps MK 4 and MK 21 mics, as well as Neumann KM 184 mics) to the 12 VCAs on the Midas XL8 96-channel digital console. Porcelli used the desk’s POPulation feature for rapid access to channel groups and achieved a realistic sound as far as acoustic pressure and individual instrument levels were concerned, managing to ensure that the amplification was discrete while enabling the audience to appreciate the nuances and dynamic power of the orchestral arrangements typical of Respighi. The only outboards used were a TC Electronic System 6000 and a Lexicon 480L.

Photographer, filmmaker, and video director Carlier, who has shown his talent for photography since the age of seven, has experimented with new creative solutions, attracting international attention with a morphing project, setting freeze frames into motion with an array of 50 cameras. As well as his lengthy collaboration with La Fura dels Baus, the eclectic Parisian’s past work has included a video clip for Sting and commercials for Audi and Timex. “An emotional, rather than a rational, approach was used,” says Carlier. “It’s not a film, but rather a combination of abstract and real images based on various suggestions so, at some points, the music seems far from what spectators see, which has various types of influences, including Italian neo-realism.”

“The idea was not to create a film accompanied by music, but rather the contrary,” says Padrissa. “Music has the leading role in this show, which plays on light and shade, with no actors or dancers. When no video is screened, the movement of the lights is sufficient to capture the spontaneous choreography of the musicians to create the ideal bond between images and music, the absolute protagonist.”
The lights in question were a series of Martin Professional MAC 2000 fixtures: 19 Wash and 28 Performance units. Teatro dell’Opera’s lighting chief and LD Augustino Angelini explains, “The rig, controlled via an MA Lighting grandMA light console, also included 20 Philips Strand Svoboda high-intensity seven-lamp battens, 200 PAR 64 CP61s, four 800W 24V ACLs, and four ADB Niethammer 1,200W HMI followspots. A pair of ETC Source Four 19° ellipsoidals was used to pick out Maestro Dutoit on the podium.”

After the show, which opened a season that included more conventional shows (Swan Lake, Tosca, Aida, and a Roberto Bolle and Friends gala night), Teatro dell’Opera’s artistic director Alessio Vlad described La Fura dels Baus’ Roman Trilogy as the first step toward the realization of a Caracalla Festival, which could transform the extraordinary location into a venue able to really host spectacles.

Mike Clark, ex-sound engineer, road manager, radio personality, and club DJ, is a UK-born journalist residing in Italy and specializing in entertainment-related technology. He has contributed to LD under its four names for 15 years, and he also works as a technical translator for audio and lighting manufacturers.

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