Laurent Pelly’s production of I Puritani entered the Paris Opera’s repertoire in 2013. The sets, designed by Chantal Thomas, made use of a grey steel trellis comprised of lines and ridges to symbolise the castle in which the action unfurls. To mark the revival of the production, Lionel Morin, the stage equipment manager at the Bastille reflects on how the strikingly distinctive set is assembled.
“Stored in 11 containers, the set for I Puritani is comprised of around 1,000 pieces, for a total weight of 34 tonnes. We use a variety of assembling techniques either on the stage or down on Sub-level 6. For this particular production, some of the pieces are laid flat so that they can be bolted together. Then, with the aid of hoists, the scene shifters raise them upright and position them on their base plates. For the other components, we start with the base of the structure, then the walls and finally the roof, just as if one were building a house. Some pieces of the set are extremely heavy and weigh more than 80 kilos. You have to be very careful that the scene shifters are not over-burdened by the excess weight. In Act I, the set is placed permanently on the turntable. The pieces must bond perfectly to the floor. These same pieces are then moved independently thanks to a device that we call a “roue pshitt”: Basically, bottles of air are used to fill a series of inflatable pads that raise the base plates, roll them and drop them at the desired location once the pads are deflated.
Of the 1,000 pieces that make up the set, 500 belong exclusively to this production and 500 are so-called “repertoire” pieces. The turntable has a diameter of 19 metres and is also used for the productions of Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra, for example. It took us almost five weeks to assemble the set. That’s a little longer than average. In most cases it rarely takes more than three weeks. However, with I Puritani, there are a lot of small pieces that require welding nuts inside tubes to secure them together. When complete, the set is 10 metres high.
Personally, I like the set. In 2013, when the production entered the repertoire, I had just been appointed head of department. I attended the first rehearsals but had not participated in the upstream creation of the production. Present during the set-up and son-stage installation, it was nevertheless an excellent moment for me to take up my position. And from a technical point of view it was a success! It requires no more than 400 m2 in storage space. There are no more than a dozen flybars. At the Opera, it is important that this storage space is respected because we are a theatre with alternating productions. We have a maximum of two hours to prepare the stage for another production to respect that alternation. Time and space are the key! And the sets of I Puritani play the game! ”
Interviewed by Irina Flament