All Aboard, Part Two: Lighting Design Of The Passenger

(Photo by Stephanie Berger)
At this year’s Lincoln Center Festival, in a co-production with the Park Avenue Armory, the Houston Grand Opera (HGO) production of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger arrived for its New York debut. Director David Pountney, whose Die Soldaten was also presented in the Armory in 2008, worked with scenic designer Johan Engels, lighting designer Fabrice Kebour, and sound designer David Meschter. Read about the scenic design in Part One of "All Aboard." Below is the continuation of the article in Part Two. 
Kebour is a longtime collaborator of Engels and Pountney. This was extremely helpful when the process of designing The Passenger began. “One of the biggest aspects was that we all knew each other so well,” says Kebour. “We could put on the table any idea that we felt was right for the production, the most unique vision and design for the piece.” Upon seeing the Armory, Engels says, “Fabrice immediately said we’ve got to light these girders. He really lights through the air.” The Festival lighting director was Aaron Copp, with Neil McShane serving as Festival production electrician, Ben Hagen as venue lighting coordinator, and Brendan Quigley as venue production electrician.
For the part of the opera set on the ocean liner, Kebour says, “I wanted to treat this with only white light.” He used HMIs to create a “pure brilliant white light,” reminiscent of being in the middle of the ocean. But, in the Auschwitz scenes, he “only used incandescent light, bringing a sort of sepia into the lighting.” He collaborated with Engels and Pountney to create the feeling of being watched. After the watchtowers were designed, originally just as lighting positions, the creative team decided to dress the followspot operators as Nazi guards standing on the towers to “bring the brutality into the piece.”
Photo by Stephanie Berger
Kebour was particularly interested in the normal rhythm of life and how it was disrupted at Auschwitz, where the difference between day and night was obliterated by the lack of privacy, the guards, and their probing flashlights. He used a lot of low positions in Auschwitz to create a lot of shadows and unnatural light to recreate the feeling of “not being able to relate to the time of day. There was no sense of morning, evening, night, whatever.”
Kebour also used graphic elements and beams of light to define the space. He used ACL fixtures to create “lines of light in the air” through haze, turning the stage into a cage of light forming around the entire set with the performers trapped in the space.
PRG provided all of the lighting equipment for the New York production, but there was very little shift in instrumentation from Houston. The plot is even very similar to the Austrian production, according to Kebour, except “what we have done is adding moving lights to replace the HMIs because HMI profiles are not as common in America.” The few moving lights used in the production were Martin Professional MAC III Performance fixtures. 
Stay tuned for Part Two and Part Three, discussing lighting and sound design of The Passenger, respectively; or see the article in the September issue of Live Design, now available for free download for iPad or iPhone from the Apple App Store or for Android smartphone and tablet from Google Play.

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