With the holidays over, Santa Claus might want to check out
Edmonton Opera’s production facility, as the north-end building could be
serious competition for St. Nick’s toy workshop.
Since September, nearly every inch of the production
facility has been used to build The Magic
Flute — carpenters, welders and painters working on the scenery in the shop,
while the wardrobe crew builds costumes at the opposite end of the building.
“We have about 15,000 square feet of floor space dedicated
to the scenic shop, and sadly, that is about a quarter of what we seem to
need,” said Clayton Rodney, Edmonton Opera’s technical and production director.
“So constantly, what happens is pieces go out on the floor,
they get cut, assembled, then they have to wait for the next step so they get
disassembled, stored against a wall, then brought back for other phases. So
it’s a constant ballet of things moving around.”
Rodney plays a middleman role — once scenery designer Bretta
Gerecke supplied him with drawings of the scenery pieces to scale, he was able to
create technical drawings in AutoCAD that the carpenters referenced to build
This design is the product of an award-winning Canadian team
— Gerecke worked with director Robert Herriot and costume designer Deanna
Finnman to create what they describe as an exotic pop-up storybook world, where
everything pops up, drops down or slides in to create a world where the
audience doesn’t know what is coming next.
Adding metal to the
Once the shop had the technical drawings, work began on two
pieces used at the top of the show — metal frames that form six panels upstage,
midstage and downstage, and a forest cut out of wood.
The panels open and close throughout the performance, each
time reshaping the stage and revealing something new. It’s like turning a page
in a pop-up book, Gerecke said.
Welding the aluminum frames was a new skill set for the
opera’s welders; the metal was not only a stylistic choice, but a practical
“For aluminum, you think, ‘Oh yeah, it’s aluminum, that will
weigh nothing.’ No, they’re a few hundred pounds per panel. Our biggest panels,
fully assembled, I’m guessing are around 700 pounds. So not as heavy as steel
by any means,” said Rodney, adding that there is also consideration to the
weight of the fabric on the panels, the paint and the hardware required to
slide the panels.
As both the scenery designer and the lighting designer, Gerecke
laughed when she said it poses a unique challenge because she can become angry
with herself for putting a scenery piece in the way of a lighting cue.
“The set was designed to be lit,” she said. “Translucent
panels, and the panels themselves open and close to reveal various locations,
so the joy of this set for me is going to be getting to light it.”
In addition to the frames, three arches were welded for the
temple scenes. The triangular structures are wrapped with green poly strapping — the same material used to hold pallets together — creating a twisted vine look.
Welding the various shapes took about 14 weeks, so while the
welders sometimes took up the entire shop floor, more often than not they
shared the space with another part of the process.
To start, plywood boards were laid out on the floor, and,
with the help of a grid, the head of properties traced the outline of the
forest to cut.
“There’s a forest depiction, I think it was in [Rudyard
Kipling’s] Just So Stories, and it’s
absolutely beautiful — similar, but a bit more romantic and curvilinear,”
Gerecke said. “We had a great moment of inspiration of, ‘Well, what if we make
that a bit more angular and a bit more powerful?’”
Once the majority of the frames were out of the way, work
continued quickly on the rest of the wooden set pieces. The palm trees and
rocky staircase are theatre-style flats, while the sun is a TV-style flat —more prominently
“There are six palm trees — a pair downstage, a pair
midstage and a pair upstage,” Rodney said. “Basically, everything in this show
creates a forced perspective moving upstage, so the legs taper in, the borders
drop slightly. We start with this wide box and it gets smaller as you go on.
It’s very much two-dimensional storybook thinking.”
And, he joked, the points on the sun are so sharp that when
the Queen of the Night is blinded by the light at the end of the performance,
the sun’s rays might skewer her.
“The colour on [the sun] is great,” Rodney said. “I love the
colour, it’s so bright, and I’ve seen the costumes that go with it as well, and
you might want to bring your sunglasses for that moment.”
The colour palette is reminiscent of warm spice tones, and
the way that they blend on the angular scenery pieces was a conscious design
decision to create contrast, Gerecke said.
“The colours are fairly bold for this production,” she said.
“It will definitely brighten the spirit of everyone who sees it, because it
will be February in Edmonton, and who doesn’t want a little colour therapy in
February in Edmonton?”
At the end of November, the scenery pieces were moved to the
side so that the stage deck assembly could begin (the contraption for the Queen
of the Night was the last piece built, in late December and early January). In
this production, installing a stage deck on top of the Jubilee stage allows for
the use of a trap door, knife tracks that keep scenery pieces on a specific course,
concealing pyrotechnics and of course, it’s much easier to paint a travelling
stage instead of the Jubilee floor itself.
From start to finish, the entire process is layered, as the
costume build started in the middle of the set build, in mid-November. The
wardrobe crew will be busy right up until opening night, as every clothing
article, including headwear, is made from scratch, instead of modifying existing
All told, by closing night, more than 50 people — shop,
wardrobe and running crews, as well as administration staff — will have had
some hand in bringing Mozart’s last opera to life (and that doesn’t even begin
to include the 16 principals, 32 chorus members and 50 Edmonton Symphony
In an opera where the word magic is right in the title,
Gerecke was the first to admit it during a shop tour in late November: “It’s
the magic that’s complicated.”
Edmonton Opera's "The Magic Flute" opens with a sold-out performance Jan. 31, 2015 (8 p.m.) at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, and continues with additional performances on Feb. 3, 2015 (7:30 p.m.) and Feb. 5, 2015 (7:30 p.m.). Tickets are available online or by calling 780-429-1000.