The world is a stage
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Luminous art on stage at the opera

© Theater, Oper und Orchester GmbH Halle / Photographer: Falk Wenzel

Robust, easy-to-handle, bright – materials for stage design must meet strict requirements. Giant lettering made from PLEXIGLAS® Resist was created for the stage design for Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” in the opera house in Halle.

The stage design for an opera or a play is much more than just scenery – it is a vital part of the production. It is the stage for singers or actors and undergoes many changes during the performance. Stage designers constantly come up with new and creative stage spaces for this reason. They provide the audience with a contemporary perspective of a piece, as is the case with the production of the world-famous opera “Tosca” in the opera house in Halle.

A new setting

“Normally, Giacomo Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ is a stringently written detective story which takes place at the beginning of the 19th century in Rome,” explains Stage Designer Wolf Gutjahr. “In Halle, we wanted to put the spotlight on the inner states of the people above all else.”

The original settings, which include the interior of a church, a police station and the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, were not suited for this purpose. “The main figures are artists, who have become caught up in the political system. So the stage design is intended to display the conflict between politics and art and how we deal with it,” explains Gutjahr. “I thought to myself: Let’s call a spade a spade.” And thus the idea of the giant lettering “ART” was born.

Evenly illuminated

“The letters are supposed to appear like large illuminated writing,” explains Torsten Paetzold, Production Manager in the workshops at the Halle opera house. At the same time, the writing also had to be strong enough to support the weight of singers walking across it, but light enough for it to be suspended on wire ropes from the ceiling. Another demand placed upon the letters was that they had to provide even illumination. “We wanted the perfect combination of visual appeal and robustness, which is why we decided to use PLEXIGLAS® Resist multi-skin sheets,” says Paetzold.

Larger than life

With a height of six meters and a total length of 12 meters, the writing made from PLEXIGLAS® looks massive behind the actors.

© Theater, Oper und Orchester GmbH Halle / Photographer: Falk Wenzel

Giant and illuminated

And its size is not the only reason the writing draws attention – the illumination catches the eye, too. Thanks to PLEXIGLAS®, the light sources are invisible and the light they produce is distributed evenly across the whole surface.

© Theater, Oper und Orchester GmbH Halle / Photographer: Falk Wenzel

Different lighting moods

The LEDs hidden behind the PLEXIGLAS® Resist can be dimmed. This allows the intensity of the illumination to be adjusted during the performance, thus creating different moods.

© Theater, Oper und Orchester GmbH Halle / Photographer: Falk Wenzel

The team from the workshop first cut the 32-mm-thick sheets to size, which were delivered by Röhm’s sales partner thyssenkrupp Plastics. They then glued the individual pieces of the brand acrylic glass together to form the six-meter-high and twelve-meter-long writing. An aluminum frame further strengthens the letters and forms a clean edge. LED strip lights are used for illumination. “The light sources are hidden behind the milky-transparent PLEXIGLAS®,” says Paetzold. “It also distributes the light evenly across the whole surface.”

Vertical, horizontal, suspended art

“At the start of the opera, the giant illuminated letters stand on the stage like a sort of art fetish, thus illuminating the center of the stage,” explains Gutjahr. “The figures and the action are placed into relation with this.” Over the course of the opera, the static writing is then adjusted to suit the action on stage. “The giant ART lettering is an ideal tool to show how our society deals with art during the performance,” says Gutjahr.

Illuminated stylistic medium

The giant PLEXIGLAS® letters are attached to a framework and wire cables.

© Wolf Gutjahr

Illuminated stylistic medium

Depending on what is happening during the performance, the letters can be held upright…

© Wolf Gutjahr

Illuminated stylistic medium

… lie flat…

© Wolf Gutjahr

Illuminated stylistic medium

… or they can be suspended.

© Wolf Gutjahr

Illuminated letters as a stylistic device

Art is instrumentalized for political proceedings during the Tosca opera. The standing illuminated letters are laid down during the second act, becoming a prop and an illuminated stage upon which the actors can resolve their conflicts. “This is not a problem for PLEXIGLAS® Resist, as it is so robust and break-proof that nothing can happen to it,” says Paetzold. As soon as the art is no longer required by the system, it can be cleared away.

The actors are then left to their own devices – the writing is hoisted out of sight to the drawing floor using wire cables. “This was another reason why we chose PLEXIGLAS®, as the whole construction could not be too heavy,” Paetzold explains. “Removing the letters represents the idea that art is unattainable,” says Gutjahr. In the last scene of the production, the main character, Tosca, remains on stage alone – a touching final picture of a production which has drawn praise from audiences and critics alike.

Experience extracts from Tosca at the opera house in Halle

Source: YouTube / Buehnen Halle

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