Garsington Opera Chooses Moving Lights for its Operas

by Stage Directions

Founded in 1989, the annual Garsington Opera Festival takes place over seven weeks in June and July at the Wormsley Estate, home of the Getty family, amid the beautiful natural setting of the Buckinghamshire countryside. The atmosphere is quintessentially English as patrons are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy the gardens and deer park in advance of the performance, and picnic by the lake or dine in the marquee during the extended dinner interval between acts. Here's a video of a scene from the recent production of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at the Garsington Opera Festival.

Garsington Opera is renowned for the quality of its productions, and engages the very best performers and musicians from around the world. It is important, therefore, to match this quality of performance with the quality of the production and equipment. This summer, the festival added some of the recently introduced Ayrton Ghibli LED spot luminaire to light its productions.

Die Zauberflöte (2018) with Benjamin Hulett as Tamino at Garsington Opera. Photo credit: Johan Persson

The aim therefore was to replace some lighting fixtures with those which made less noise during the finely tuned performances, something they were particularly keen to achieve given the peaceful surroundings. Technical Manager, Stephen Hawkins and his production electrician, Sam Floyd, began actively looking for quieter models and joined forces with lighting designers Malcolm Rippeth and Mark Jonathan to find a solution. “It was essential we had a quiet moving light as the acoustic at Garsington is vibrant and we needed to reduce fan noise,” says Jonathan.

“We talked to several major manufacturers before settling on a few close contenders,” says Rippeth. “White Light organized shoot-outs at their premises and again at the Royal Opera House for us to make detailed comparisons. Our main criteria were that the replacement not only had to be quieter than the existing fixtures, but must be equally as bright without losing any of the features.”

The result of shoot-outs showed Ayrton’s Ghibli to be the best in several categories: brightness, quality of the beam and of course, noise reduction, and succeeded in winning over Jonathan and Rippeth who were lighting this year’s productions.Falstaff (2018) with Soraya Mafi as Nannetta and the Garsington Opera Chorus at Garsington Opera. Photo Credit: Clive Barda

Rippeth designed for three of the four operas in this year’s program: Strauss’s Capriccio, Verdi’s Falstaff, which earned him a nomination for a Knight of Illumination Award, and Garsington’s first ever world-premiere, The Skating Rink, a new work by leading British composer David Sawer and award-winning librettist Rory Mullarkey.

“Garsington Opera performs in a 600-seat pavilion lined with large glass windows on both sides, so any lighting design contends with huge amounts of daylight before the long dinner interval, and then moves into darkening and fully-dark conditions as the performance progresses,” Rippeth explains. “Any lighting fixture therefore has to be bright enough to register in full daylight, but versatile enough to cope with the changing conditions throughout.

“Our tests showed Ghibli to be a really impressive fixture – brighter than anything else on the market, really very quiet, and with the best zoom range. The shuttering is beautiful with a range that takes it right to the very edge. It gives a good soft beam, the colour mix is smooth right across the beam and, considering its lightsource, produces a pretty good tungsten. It was just the right fixture.”

White Light supplied 24 Ghibli fixtures for the season where they became the workhorse of the rig, hung from proscenium to the back of the stage from where they were used mainly as back light and three-quarter back light. “The four operas play in rep so the Ghibli had to be adaptable to fit all our purposes,” confirms Rippeth. “They fitted in well with the other fixtures and were completely reliable throughout.”

Lighting programmer, Dan Street, worked closely with the internationally renowned lighting designer Mark Jonathan on the fourth opera of the season, Mozart’s last opera, Die Zauberflöte. He also had some positive experiences with Ghibli: “The unit is very quick and accurate with a good range of zoom and focus to suit a range of applications,” he says. “It’s brilliantly quiet in terms of heat control and operation, and with virtually no audible noise to the audience which was essential for use at Garsington. It has a great back-end color temperature, which is nice, and is flat across the beam, very bright and with a nice crisp white that makes it punchy, even on top of discharge fixtures and up against the daylight we faced."

Street continues about the Ghibli: “There is a good selection of colors on the color wheel and smooth colormixing on the CMY and CTO wheels. The dichroic mixes on the CMY are an excellent hue enabling a good control of the overall saturation. The animation wheel and effects within the Ghibli give a solid range of options with the right gobo load. The dimming is also very good with an excellent fine range at the lower end leading to smooth fade ins and outs.”

“Ayrton’s Ghibli came along at just the right time,” concludes White Light’s technical director, Dave Isherwood. “Ayrton has a growing reputation for performance and reliability, so when we saw what the Ghibli could do during the shoot-out, we were happy to invest in a number of them for our rental stock. Garsington Opera has been their first outing and they did not disappoint. They were 100% reliable with no swap-outs for the whole seven weeks. The prep team reported them easy to work with and were impressed with their build quality. Ghibli has been a big success and have been in steady use ever since on corporate events and in television studios with demand for them continuing to grow.”

Further information from Ayrton: www.ayrton.eu