L.A. Opera's makeover, from 'Cosi' to 'Onegin' in 4 1/2 hours
Opera audiences are used to seeing performances awash in spectacle. But they rarely get to glimpse the magic that occurs between shows -- namely, “the changeover,” when one production is taken down and another takes its place. “It’s like working a huge jigsaw puzzle,” says Rupert Hemmings, director of production at Los Angeles Opera. “It may seem haphazard, but everything’s done in order.”
On this Times video by Tim French, you can watch the company make the switch between its current offerings -- Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” and Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” which continue through Oct. 9. Neither of the imported productions is “overly scenery-heavy,” says Hemmings, so “it's a medium-sized change.” Even so, the process requires 4 1/2 hours and 45 carpenters, electricians and sound and prop people.
In the video, after the Sunday (Sept. 18) matinee of “Cosi” ends, everything on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage is left untouched until the following Wednesday, when preparations begin for that evening’s “Onegin." At 1 p.m., the crew starts collecting props and dismantling scenery. An hour later, “Cosi” is in storage -- awaiting its turn to be seen again -- and “Onegin"'s first piece of flooring is in position.
The rural set gradually takes shape. The orchestra pit is reconfigured. Lighting checks are underway. A large (albeit shallow) lake is created by laying down sheets of Plexiglas-covered plywood, surrounding them with a wooden barrier, smoothing out two rubber liners and then running a garden hose for 90 minutes to add 800 to 1,000 gallons of water. (During intermission, the water and liners are removed; later, the Plexiglas becomes a “frozen” surface for skaters.)
By 3:30, “a lot of the big stuff is in,” says technical director Jeff Kleeman. “But there’s lots of tweaking to do.”
At 5:30, the transition from Mozart's sunny Italy to Tchaikovsky's melancholy Russia is complete. Two hours later, the curtain rises.
-- Karen Wada
Photo: Stage hands assemble the grassy field on the LA Opera set of "Eugene Onegin." Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times