Stormy Weather For The Flying Dutchman

To open its 2012 Opera Festival, Beijing’s huge National Center for Performing Arts decided to produce The Flying Dutchman, its first Wagner opera, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth (in 2013). The opera’s director, Giancarlo del Monaco (son of world-famous tenor, Mario), called in an all-Italian team for the opera’s set, lighting, and projection design: respectively William Orlandi, Vinicio Cheli, and Sergio Metalli.

Metalli, responsible for recreating the sea, which plays a fundamental role in the haunting tale of the sea captain and his ghostly ship, had worked with Orlandi in the past. “After I’d shown some of my work, Giancarlo del Monaco came to my studio, we prepared some images, and our positive working relationship grew from there,” says Metalli.

In addition to Giovanni Buttitta, Enrico Pazzagli, and Giovanni Quiri from Ideogamma, Metalli’s specialist large-scale projection and virtual set design company, the designer’s team included Rome-based 3D/digital artist Nicola Sganga, who has more than 40 films to his credit and three David di Donatello awards for visual effects. After several days working on how to realize the content, Sganga returned to his Rome base to work on part of the opera, while the Ideogamma team worked on the rest, creating the sea in all conditions, the sky, lightning, and, at one point, the eerie silhouette of the approaching Dutchman’s boat.

“The video content was created entirely using Autodesk 3ds Max 2012 for 3D work and Autodesk Combustion and Adobe After Effects 5.5 for compositing,” says Buttitta. The team then traveled to the venue with one of Ideogamma’s customized hex core PCs and a network-attached storage unit with the pre-production videos for production rehearsals, fine-tuning the projections to suit the stage and integrating with Orlandi’s set elements.

“Time was a big problem to meet the client’s brief,” says Metalli. “Working in 3D with seascapes, we were at the theatre until four in the morning and back at nine the next day. We modified the waves’ speed and fullness, as well as their frequency and color, the size of raindrops and the dimensions of the lightning flashes. A lot of work went into both 3D work and the compositing, particularly on effects such as foam and lightning.” The numerous changes in atmosphere ranged from Nordic-style rough seas and storms, to lightning and rain, to calm sea and waves rolling toward the audience when the ship is in the harbor in Act 3.

Metalli specified three Gerriets International Studio gray PVC rear projection screens—a main rear screen measuring approximately 82'x49' and two side screens, each 49'x49'—that formed a sort of box round the set, with additional projections on a huge area of the stage floor. “We used four Barco FLM R22+ units on the rear screen in 4:3, whereas the other projectors were all Barco FLM HD20 HD units, two on each side screen and four on the stage, all in 16:9,” says Metalli. The screens were mounted on motorized pipes, enabling them to be raised and lowered when set elements were moved on and off the stage. Backstage, an area was allocated to 12 Dataton Watchout 5 systems, connected to the projectors via DVI with fiber optics, and eight rendering servers.

An MA Lighting grandMA2 console was used to control the lighting rig, comprising 60 Clay Paky Alpha moving head fixtures—30 Wash 1200s and 30 Profile 1500s—as well as 130 ETC Source Four PAR units and 25 ADB Lighting Technologies 2kW 15°/35° profiles. Cheli, whose lighting has been appreciated by audiences at the Rossini Opera Festival, Salzburg Festival, Théâtre Champs-Elysées, Chalet Theatre in Paris, La Scala, and Venice’s La Fenice, says the plan was to make the scenes look like paintings of the 1880s. “In Italy, we have a different concept of lighting and images, and, as opposed to UK and US LDs’ modus operandi, don’t use a lot of light, because we’re more interested in the spectacles’ overall results,” he says. “So no followspots were used, and I based the lighting on the luminous intensity of Sergio’s projections, using the same color tones to complete the scenes and balance the light on the set and performers. Due to the tall set elements, the light bridges were at a height of 24 meters [79'] but, fortunately, the CP Washes and Profiles have optic groups that allow light beams to be tightened considerably.”

There was no sound reinforcement for the performers, but the theatre’s Studer Vista 8 digital console was used for chorus monitoring and sound effects.

After the opera’s opening at the NCPA’s 2,400-capacity house, local newspaper China News reported, “Last night’s stage combined realistic and imaginary representations and backgrounds, presenting an effect similar to the best epic magical 3D films.”

“CNPA president Chen Ping was very satisfied with the projections and said he’d never seen anything like them in China before,” Metalli enthuses, adding that he has three more productions scheduled in China before the end of the year.

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