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a virtual set for a comic opera

The aim is to set up a virtual set design for the opera 'Les Mammelles de Tiresias' by Francis Poulenc, performed by students of the Maastricht Academy of Music, directed for the stage by Corinna Palm and conducted by Jeremy Hulin.

Two third-year students in set design of the Toneelacademie Maastricht worked out a virtual set for this comic opera. The wildly absurd nature of this opera (dealing with transgender issues, a strong anti-war sentiment and lots of musical inside jokes) has always been a hard nut to crack. The combination of the absurd and the serious is a hard to follow balancing act. A virtual set could be one way to deal with these rapid switching themes, settings and moods.

During the process which started off with great enthusiasm and involvement of all partners, the design process proved to be too ambitious. The young designers had to confront lots of issues at the same time. Would the set be enough of a versatile playground for the many singers involved? How to combine the need for a visibility of all the singers involved with a projection-friendly environment? (After all, this is an important graduation proof for most of the singers - the jury would not be very pleased with gazing in the half dark at silhouette actors.) How to produce the amount of video necessary to 'fill' a feature length opera? How to decide the basic setting: going for the specific or the abstract?

That proved to be a hectic assignment in which the virtual almost drowned. Aside of some very beautiful moments - mostly in between scenes in which the light switched - the virtual concepts drowned literally into the light and into the ambition of projecting on too big a part of a stage too big. An opera production always proves to be a hectic place in which there is quite little time to experiment, due to the amount of people involved. In a student production, where the individual singing and acting qualities of all the singers involved are judged, that's even more the case.

For the set design students, it has been a very interesting (but tough) learning experience, in which they managed to provide material for the entire opera, which is quite an achievement in itself. But the project reminded us that projection is light, and that an adapted light scheme is a basic prerequisite for any virtual endeavor. Even in these times where projectors produce thousands of ANSI lumen easily, it's good to keep in mind that one theatre spot in itself produces easily ten times more light.

Ah, well... it wouldn't be a research project if everything happened exactly as planned...


Opening night: june 29 2011 at Opera Zuid
'Les Mammelles de Tiresias' by Francis Poulenc
performed by students of the Maastricht Academy of Music
directed for the stage by Corinna Palm
conducted by Jeremy Hulin

set design: Monika Zimmer and Jamil Sumiri
coached by Peter Missotten