The Barber of Seville lights up New Zealand
by Jenny Barrett.
“From Betty Crocker to Rocky Horror, with a dash of Meatloaf and McEnroe, a splash of Split Enz and a quiff of Elvis” (Michael Hooper, Theatre Review) wouldn’t be the description that you would expect for a 200 year old opera but that was the inimitable response to The Barber of Seville after opening in Auckland on June 7.
“The Barber of Seville is a sumptuous feast, colourful morsels to tempt the senses awaiting around each and every corner of the most elaborate and sagacious sets that has been constructed in recent years…with the most spectacular and inventive effects that a New Zealand Opera has ever presented,” purred one reviewer (Sarah Kidd, Ambient Light).
And Matt Marshall, Australian Lighting Designer, was the lucky man who got to light it all up.
Matt puts the opera’s success firmly down to the team dynamics and the trust that exists between the different creatives, which has been built up over years.
A co-production between Queensland Opera, Seattle Opera and NZ Opera to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Rossini’s opening night of The Barber of Seville, Lindy Hume (Director) approached Matt back in 2015, having worked together on numerous previous projects.
Channelling her innate Aussie humour, Lindy’s vision was Looney Tunes meets Fawlty Towers, “She wanted the colour dial turned right up, a kind of Simpsons on speed feel to it and she wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries, even envisaging the lighting cues getting laughs,” recalls Matt. “Lindy simply wanted me to saturate the stage with colour.”
Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is the story of a barber, Figaro, who helps Count Almaviva in prising the beautiful Rosina away from her lecherous guardian, Dr Bartolo. A comic opera, many of the tunes are familiar, lending themselves to high-speed cartoon chases.
In 1950, in ‘The Rabbit of Seville’, Bugs Bunny gave Elmer Fudd a clean shave to the soundtrack of Rossini’s overture. The opera’s best known aria sung by Figaro on his entrance, ‘Make way for the servant who does everything’ (‘Largo al factotum’), was also the cartoon score for a Tom & Jerry episode.
It is Rossini’s energetic madcap zaniness that the cartoon writers loved, and that Lindy wanted to put front and central of this opera co-production.
As well as the lighting, the set design would be critical, “Lindy envisaged myriads of doors and windows opening, closing and revolving.” Matt put Lindy in touch with set and costume designer Tracy Grant Lord, a New Zealander who he had worked with at Sydney Theatre Company.
Tracy designed a fake proscenium of doors and window frames and explained what she required of the lighting, “Tracy is a creative who designs with lighting in mind. She can communicate her inspiration by recommending I look at some artwork or photos or even watch a movie, so that I can understand the aesthetic.”
The result was thirty-two channels to light the proscenium and the cast as they whizz in and out of the intricate doors, crawl spaces and windows.
For the overture, as is traditional, there was to be no staging to detract from the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, and such was the trust between the team that Lindy handed over the overture in its entirety to Matt to create a seven minute light show.
For Matt, with a musical background himself, this was the icing on the cake, “This is why I love lighting opera over plays. Tuning into the overture, breaking it apart and then designing the light to move and fuse with the music just comes naturally to me. I can listen to the music and see how the lighting should look, often before I even see the stage.”
Which makes Matt the ideal lighting designer for this touring opera, which to date has visited three theatres, each obviously with very different rigs and stage limitations requiring adaptations to the proscenium.
The original season was in Brisbane in 2016, then they travelled to Seattle in 2017 and after Auckland, they move to Wellington and then Christchurch, “I could tweak the lighting forever, especially the lighting for the characters who each have their own palette for me to play with, but it comes down to time, and the skill of the programmer.”
At the Aotea Centre, Matt worked with Abby Clearwater who was in Matt’s words definitely up for it, “We cut back on the moving profiles but used a lot of wash. Our Figaro is like a rock star so we put a lot of time into lighting him up exactly like a rock ‘n roll star would expect.”
And it worked – one reviewer comparing him to an OTT John and another declaring he would make “even the iconic Prince envious.”
Matt himself sat back with a drink and watched the first night, “It worked brilliantly. The Kiwis, like the Aussies, have a great sense of humour and the Chorus were really good fun. It is literally one of my favourite operas and I really enjoyed it.”
Matt and Tracy are also working with NZ Opera on their next project, The Turn of The Screw, the first under new Director Thomas de Mallet Burgess. A very different brief, “This will be dark and moody, pared back and mysterious. I have always envisaged the ghost as being a light, so we are working through that and the set design at the moment.”
The Turn of the Screw will be playing at The Opera House, Wellington, 3-5 October and ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland, 18-23 October. The remaining tour dates for the Barber of Seville are Wellington, Opera House, June 29, July 2, 4 and 6 and Christchurch, Isaac Theatre Royal, August 1, 3 & 7.
Lighting Gear List
• 14 x Robe 800 wash
• 24 x 2k Fresnels
• 15 x 1.2k PCs
• 28x MFL Par 64
• 8x NSP Par 64
• 38 x Selecon Pacific 12°-28° zoom profile 1kW
• 20 x Selecon Pacific 23°-50° zoom profile 1kW
• 48 x Selecon Pacific 9°-19° zoom profile 1.2kW 80V
• 2 x Strong Supertrooper 2kW Xenon follow spots
Grouse Lighting Aotearoa
• 8 x Viper Performance
• 1 x MDG Atmosphere hazer
• 8 x Showpro LED Bar 154
• 9 x 150w QI floods
• 1 x Look Solutions Viper S Smoke Machine
Abby Clearwater – Head of Lighting
Stephen Paul – Assistant Head of Lighting & Board Operator
Nick Tomlin & Sarah Briggs – Followspot Operators
Thank you to Steve Sanders Project Manager at Grouse.