The decor consists of a surface which covers the entire
stage: in the centre, there’s a sloping structure, the edges of which are
covered with fake grass which stretches all the way down to the feet of the
audience. To make it seem even more like the mythical garden, trees
"grow" both on stage and around the auditorium.
The central structure is comprised of different interlocking panels, each one built around an iron frame. The set engineer’s design office designed the structure so that it could rise during the second half of the show. In effect, when Eurydice goes back into the Underworld, a motor under the stage increases the slope’s gradient and turns it into a genuine hill which swallows up the soloist. We reinforce the structure’s overall stability with large stays that need to be silently and rapidly positioned under the stage. To enable ourselves and the singers to move around, we built a network of hidden gangways.
Once the sets are in place, we gradually familiarise ourselves with the production. During rehearsals, we make it possible for the artists to work in conditions as close as possible to those of the premiere. We adapt to the wishes of the director and the conductor and do our best to reconcile their input with the technical constraints imposed upon us.
Our greatest challenge is Eurydice's disappearance into the Underworld. The effect is possible thanks to a mobile floor that we call a “trap”. It’s a system which practically every theatre has and which enables actors and sets to appear and disappear. However, we needed to design one specially for the occasion. At the given moment in the performance, the soloist positions herself on the “trap”, we remove the safety catches holding it in place and support it on both sides with our shoulders. Thanks to a counterweight, we are able to guide the soloist's descent.
Our movements need to be executed in perfect time with the music. The beauty of the effect—and above all, the safety of soloist Laure Poissonnier who sings the role of Eurydice—depend on it. In the end, all these manoeuvres make up a sort of score which unfurls in tandem with that used by the musicians and singers. To ensure that we respect it, we stay in contact with Jean-Louis, the stage manager via headphones throughout the performance. He in turn leads the technicians like an orchestra conductor.
During the greater part of the performance, we move about out of sight inside the hill. However, in the third part of the performance, Jean-Marc the props man and myself are obliged to carry out a set change on stage in view of the audience. In our jargon, that’s called a "feu"( spotlight), because, for once, we are under the spotlights. In this type of procedure, so as to go unnoticed, we are generally dressed from head to toe in black but in L’Orfeo we are fully integrated into the staging. Wearing costumes and decked out in masks, we suddenly appear from the depths and frolic with the nymphs!
What I like about the Amphitheatre, is working in a theatre built on a human scale. It reintroduces a degree of versatility into the stagehand's job and underscores the importance of teamwork. We need to find practical solutions and oversee safety in close collaboration with all the technical and artistic staff and build a relationship based on trust with the soloists.
Under Stéphane Lissner’s directorship, the management has decided to expand the programming at the Amphithéâtre and give it a greater role, which is an opportunity for us. It’s a transitional season in which we are increasingly being called upon to work in the space, first with another of the Academy’s productions Vol retour in December. After 11 years at the Paris Opera, I know the set assembly areas—which are located 6 levels and 40 metres under the stage—as well as the entire backstage area like the back of my hand. It’s a delight to discover the technical potential of a new performance space which I hope will become a “4th theatre” in its own right.
Interviewed by Milena Mc Closkey