Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts celebrated the centennial of composer Leonard Bernstein's birth in a big way this summer, including The Knights' charming production of Bernstein's operetta Candide in a circus-inspired Commedia dell'Arte style. "This production had its inception with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) in October of 2016. The Knights and OPO share an artistic director, Eric Jacobsen, who’s a good friend of mine and the reason I’m on this show to begin with," says lighting designer Aaron Copp. "They presented it in a rock club called Plaza Live that OPO owns and manages. It has a small, shallow stage and a club lighting rig. Alison Moritz (director) and I knew that a less-is-more approach was going to work best with the limited time and resources we had. She’d been fascinated with Fellini’s La Strada, and that was sort of a starting point. In the end, some of the key research images are from that film, but some of them were just other random circus images that we liked. Alison is really a visionary. Her ideas were so strong about this production and the conceptual framework so complete that my work sort of fell into place easily."
Copp points out, "The band was always going to be on stage, so we worked very hard on a ground plan that kept the musicians as compact as possible upstage. Alison also had those participatory bits with Eric and the band in mind from the beginning so it was always important that they be upstage and visible. We tried to keep the downstage area at least 18’ deep at center. Musicians were probably a bit more squished than they normally would be, but they’re all really good sports about it."
The Orlando production was done in an incredibly short and fraught time period, and as Copp explains, "We did the best we could given that we basically had one pass through the show before opening. Actually,we teched it in front of a full house because, due to a little miscommunication with the marketing department, the first tech session with performers on stage had been billed as an open dress rehearsal…the first we knew of that was when 700 people started streaming in. We had cable running from everywhere to the tech table, and we were frantically running around trying to tape stuff down. And of course, it meant that we couldn’t stop once we started. I was calling spots and programming the Ion, and was still learning the spot ops' names while we were trying to select frames and trying to keep a full run going in front of a packed audience. We never really teched the show, to be honest. We just sort of flew by the seat of our pants and got something up. It was a bit of a nightmare at the time but funny in retrospect. When it opened, we knew we had something and just needed a shot at actually teching it," he notes.
"As soon as we finished the OPO production in 2016, we started planning future iterations of the production with The Knights. It wasn’t clear until sometime in mid-late 2017 that Tanglewood would be the first presentation. We were going to do it in NYC, on Long Island, at the Ravinia Festival, and others were talked about. Eventually, the late 2017 dates fizzled, and we started in early 2018 planning in earnest for Ozawa Hall. It would seem at first glance that it would be most natural as a proscenium presentation, and of course, it would work great that way, but as I sketched and drafted through it in 3D, it became really clear that it looked really natural at Ozawa," says Copp.
Read more about this production in the slide show of images by Christopher Duggan.