Lucy Carter Lights the Dream of Gerontius for ENO

by Michael Eddy

An ambitious production of Sir Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius—a collaboration between the English National Opera, Royal Festival Hall, and BBC Singers, was described by lighting designer Lucy Carter as “dramatic, soulful, beautiful, calm, and overwhelming.” Her aim was “to map the emotions of the music in order to give the audience a visceral sensation, with all lighting textures complementary to the music.”

Carter achieved this with almost exclusive use of 160 of GLP’s X4 Bars. These fixtures formed the main component of the show, featuring full orchestra and chorus, as the LD mapped every single pixel individually on an ETC EOS desk—with programmer Jenny Kershaw setting up over 500 cues on the console. This exercise required not only major support from ETC’s Andy Davies but also GLP’s Simon Barrett, who equipped all 160 fixtures (including ten of the smaller Bar 10 battens) with the GLP's new 2-degree filter. Fitted as a diffuser on the front, this smoothed out any possible color shift when viewed at close range.

The stage set itself comprised a large outer tri-lined triangle of bars, set at an angle of 10° from the mother truss, with a smaller triangle in the middle, and a further three long X4 Bar 20 lines at the back. Carter visualized this epic design in WYSIWYG over a three-week period before having to set up the massive test rig at RFH, which then had to be derigged for another production before being reinstalled in what proved to be an extremely tight time frame.

Introduced to ENO by artistic director Daniel Kramer, who had been impressed with her exploration of light as a performance in its own right in Sadler’s Well’s actor-free production of No Body, she explained her rationale. “I researched the score and knew I needed something that sculpted space. I had a lot of people onstage and orchestra stands are not particularly beautiful — therefore I needed to create another layer which would evoke the journey with light emotion and light texture.”

She researched the best means of achieving this and after being shown the versatile X4 Bars she sourced the lights from PRG, led by Jon Cadbury, who have supplied both her and the ENO with solutions in the past. “The Bars gave me the zoom possibility, with a tight curtain of light, as well as the flood as a wash. On top of that, the tilting was brilliant, as was the color mixing. I had initially only wanted them to be white but suddenly I had a whole tool box and great color palette.”

Carter also spoke to designer, Neil Austin, who has worked closely with GLP solutions, and he suggested the 2-degree filter, which he had been instrumental in designing. “At close range, the blending hadn’t quite come together and this immediately alleviated any fears, although I doubt that at 10 meters it would have been noticeable. But it was really impressive and cleared any anxieties about short distance viewing. We use smoke effects to populate across the lights to produce a continually moving organic feeling, with a lot of haze through the whole rig. It was one ginormous pixel map and we needed a high spec desk.”

Summing up, she said, “There were no issues with the color blending, the dimming, or the tilt. Many LDs have told me how brilliant these X4 Bars are and I can understand the huge demand. I can’t wait to use them again.”

Jon Cadbury, who had set up the initial test rig, admits that the X4 Bars had ticked all the boxes, including being noiseless. “Lucy wanted to stream video through it and these were the obvious choice. However, rather than use a conventional desk with a media server, running it in DMX entirely through EOS presented challenges as this was the biggest pixel mapping control system ETC had ever organized.” Special software needed to be developed and a more up to date production desk provided. “It was certainly an original way of lighting the orchestra who are more used to working in Proms conditions,” he concluded.

In addition to the GLP and ETC support, Cadbury also praised the work of production electrician, Martin Chisnall, Ade Stead, who was responsible for the truss structures, and Graham Moir, technical manager at Royal Festival Hall. Lucy Carter’s design was developed closely with the support of Adrian Plaut, her lighting supervisor from ENO, and she also credits production manager Matt Nodding from ENO for his assistance.

Further information from German Light Products: