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Backstage

The suspended bed of Rusalka

A production remembered — By Cyril Pesenti

Have you ever dreamed of immersing yourself in the legend of the mermaid? Wait no longer, Rusalka is returning to the stage of the Opéra Bastille. Between reality and supernatural, Michael Levine’s sets magnificently embody the spellbinding music of Antonín Dvořák. Alain Duret, deputy director of the Bastille’s stage equipment department, reveals the secrets of a particularly magical component of the set: the suspended bed.

“At the beginning of the final act, when Rusalka is doomed to wander as a ghost after being betrayed by the prince, the witch Ježibaba appears on a mysterious suspended bed. She reveals to Rusalka the means to bring an end to her suffering: if she wants to save herself, she must kill the Prince.

In order not to reveal the presence of the suspended set piece until the very last moment, we had to come up with an ingenious mechanism. Everything (the bed, chairs, bedside tables, duvet cover, roses, lamps…) is bolted to a steel structure capable of supporting a significant payload. So as to retain a degree of lightness, the external trim of this metallic frame was made of wood and composite materials. Indeed, we mustn’t forget that this set piece is going to be moving: it advances progressively from the far reaches of the stage by way of a rolling system. With a view to suggesting the levitation of the fixed components, the entire frontal section of the structure is covered in black velvet. As a result, the entire set piece seems to blend completely into the dark and sombre atmosphere of the stage.    

À l’envers du décor, escalier permettant à la chanteuse de se placer.
À l’envers du décor, escalier permettant à la chanteuse de se placer. © Elena Bauer / OnP

The rear part of this great wall is organised so that a spiral staircase supported by a steel structure can be attached there. At the desired moment, with the help of a set technician, Ježibaba climbs the steps and positions herself in the box. The funny thing is, we have the impression that she is really lying in the bed, when in fact, she is really standing with her head propped against a pillow to simulate a lying position. When the aria is over, we help Ježibaba climb back down and we close the door to the box.

© Elena Bauer / OnP

We can then release the set’s locks and, with the help of two stagehands manually operate the wheel that makes the bed and the other components rotate. This is how, during her second appearance, revealed by the light escaping from the trap from which Ježibaba reappears, the bed is now turned horizontally!”

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