BEHIND THE SCENES
What goes on behind the scenes?
What would a performance be like if the curtain failed to go up, if Don Giovanni walked onto the stage with the scenery from Swan Lake, or if Tosca performed wearing the wrong costume? More than 200 people work behind the scenes to make sure these things never happen.
creating a performance – production work
Directors, assistant directors, set designers, costume designers and lighting designers work together to create the performances at the Opera. Work on a production often starts with the director, set designer and costume designer getting together to give the work a visual form. Rehearsals with soloists, the chorus and extras are initially held in separate rehearsal rooms, with these rehearsals only moving onto the actual stage as the opening night approaches. The director and set designer work with the lighting designer to create instructions for the technical crew, curtains, set changes and props. The assistant director forms an important link in this teamwork. Together with the director, the assistant director also oversees rehearsals of the ensemble’s current repertoire.
Répétiteurs are responsible for conducting rehearsals with the orchestra, soloists andchorus and help these singers with their phrasing and pronunciation when the opera is sung in the original language. The répétiteurs are indispensable to the work that goes on in the rehearsal hall and to the soloists’ rehearsal of their roles. The répétiteur plays piano during theatrical rehearsals and directs soloists and choral sections singing backstage. Multiple internal televisions are installed, making it possible to see the conductor’s gestures on the stage and behind the scenes. The répétiteur collaborates closely with the conductor.
The opera's prompters
The prompter’s box is installed at the centre-front edge of the stage. The box is open during opera performances and closed during ballet performances. Currently, the opera employees four prompters – all women – as the female voice is deemed more suitable for the task. An Opera prompter prompts continuously throughout the show. This is done to prevent any mishaps. The prompter also helps with the music in a number of ways. A prompter has to be extremely musical, be able to read sheet music, know languages and be able to draw on a wealth of experience when it comes to opera.
The stage manager
The stage manager’s booth is located behind the left side of the stage. The stage manager coordinates the entire show – by making announcements to the audience and performers, by sending light cues to the control panel, signalling curtain movements and stage entrances, floor hatch openings and set changes with the curtain up. All cues are written down in the stage manager’s notes, known as a piano score. At present, there are four stage managers at the Opera.
The Opera’s stage department is in charge of the scenery and props forming part of the set design of the various productions. The department is also responsible for the theatre’s stage machinery, transportation and orchestra services.
The Opera boasts a sophisticated stage technology, with moving floor sections and a moving orchestra pit. There is a rigging system with 75 lines for suspending backdrops, among other things. All of these systems require meticulous servicing, which is the responsibility of the stage department’s machinery unit. After the premiere of every show, the performance is thoroughly documented by means of drawings, photographs and cue lists, so that the show can easily be put on again without missing a beat. The whole idea behind repertory theatre is to be able to present the works in alternation for several years going forward, and all the pieces need to be in place for this to work.
Backdrops painted on fabric and measuring 17 x 12 m that are manually rolled up in order to protect the painting, then stored in the Opera’s special backdrop storeroom; or scenery flats, consisting of fabric tensioned on a frame, and generally attached to the floor by a special stage screw. The set design is made up of different types of scenery.
Composite ad hoc scenery is three-dimensional and is often made of polystyrene, meaning that it takes up a great deal of space in the Opera’s small storerooms. Due to the lack of space, the scenery has to be transported by special trailer to and from our scenery storeroom at Gäddviken in Nacka, which is where the Opera also has a large rehearsal space and workshops.
Everything from small or large pieces of furniture, to minor handheld props and weapons, and other objects needed in the various stage environments, is handled by the Props Master.
The Orchestral Service is responsible for providing support services during the orchestra rehearsals, including by setting out sheet music on the music stands, arranging chairs, etc.
the costume department
The master of costumes and wigs is responsible for coordinating and planning men’s and women’s costumes as well as men’s and women’s wigs. His or her work is carried out in consultation with the assistant master of costumes and wigs, and by delegation to the heads of the various departments..
400 metres of tulle in the tailor's workshop
The Opera House houses a tailor’s workshop for men’s and women’s costumes in the attic floor above the auditorium. Between 1,000 and 1,500 costumes per year are produced here for new productions and new cast members. The costumes need to be able to withstand heavy wear, sometimes over decades and are always extraordinarily well-tailored using high-quality fabrics. The few items made using synthetic materials include furs, leather garments and jewels. Large quantities of fabric are used to clothe the ensemble, the chorus and extras in a production: for example, around 400 metres of tulle are required for the white tutus worn by the 40 swans in Swan Lake. Every performer has his or her own costume, even in roles that alternate between performers. This means that new costumes constantly need to be made for running performances as new members are added to the cast.
hidden gems among 100 000 costumes
Part of the costume inventory is stored at the very top of the theatre building, while the remainder is kept at a warehouse off-site. The total inventory numbers some 100,000 garments and 10,000 pairs of shoes and boots. Every costume is labelled with both the name of the opera or ballet, and with the name of the cast member.
There is also a special section for historical costumes. Notable among these are a Harlequin costume from the 1700s which appears as an item in Gustav III’s estate inventory from 1792, authentic attire worn by the Gustavian gentry, resplendent edging imported from Paris, as well as 20th-century costumes like Oberon’s rainbow jacket created by Isaac Grünewald, and several of Sven Erixon’s costumes for Aniara.
300 new wigs every year
The opera’s wig workshop produces virtually everything needed to transform singers and dancers from who they are into their stage personalities. The workshop cares for and styles the approximately 3,500 wigs in its inventory. This is also where the make-up needed in rehearsals and performances is applied. The workshop also produces around 300 new wigs every year, along with a large number of beards, moustaches, bald pates, noses and masks. Most of the wigs are still made of human hair, usually imported Asian hair, which is especially robust and survives bleaching and dyeing. Hair shorn from the Tibetan yak is also suitable, and is sometimes used to produce white rococo wigs. A comparatively small number of wigs, most of them so-called fantasy wigs for trolls and elves, are made of rope, foam rubber, plastic and tulle. A minimum of four days is generally required to produce a wig.
Light, photography and recordings
The Opera also has a lighting and sound department. As the name would imply, the lighting department is responsible for all stage lighting, carrying out its duties in close cooperation with the lighting designer for the given production. Sometimes a production also requires projections, which also falls to the lighting department to arrange. This department also handles lighting in the auditorium and elsewhere on Opera premises.
The sound department is responsible for all audio technology in connection with theatrical operations.
The opera's Archives, libary and collections
Music needs scores. Yet it’s not only musicians, singers and conductors who need scores. Directors, prompters, stage managers and many others need some form of score in order to be able to perform their duties. The Opera’s music librarians are responsible for providing these materials, which frequently need to undergo various kinds of editing – deletions, re-notation, transpositions – to suit everyone’s needs and wishes. The library also generally functions as an internal information resource in the field of music, thanks to its reference library, databases and unique collection of scores spanning the Opera’s 245-year history. This department also handles the legal aspects of music and scores. Negotiations and contracts with copyright holders and record labels are handled by the Opera’s Copyright Manager.
The Opera’s archivist curates material from the theatre’s archives and historical collections. For example, it may be necessary to dig up a costume list or an old contract, and in many cases the programme editor will want to include images from previous productions in the programme. Like the library, the archive also serves as an internal information resource for the entire building.