It was a late Friday night when our technical director found out the set for Il Trovatore was stuck at sea. He and our other LAO leaders considered some options. Forget the set and produce a recital? After 18 months without opera, no way. Stage a different version of this opera? We were way too far down the line with this version. Build a scaled back version of the one stuck at sea. It just doesn’t feel right. We were finally getting our crew back to work after so long. The only sensible option was to build a new one. From scratch. In 10 days.
We were expecting to receive a full shipment of scenery and visual effects from the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in Monaco, but delays caused by the pandemic have caused a backup of ships at seaports around the world. So instead of getting unloaded off the ship and trucked to our theater, the set was still at sea, just outside of the port of Los Angeles (until September 14 when it finally docked at its destination).
"They were diverted back to the open ocean to wait in a line of, currently, something like 38 other container ships," Jeff Kleeman, our technical director, told NPR. The delay "puts it well past our window of opportunity to get in into the theater, build it, light it and have it ready for opening night," he said.
We knew, after the last year and a half, that this show absolutely had to go on. But if being set-less wasn’t bad enough, there was another problem: we didn’t have construction blueprints for the set, just some assembly notes. And even if we did, it wouldn’t matter since the measurements would be in a different metric system.
Before our crews could get started with building, our design manager Carolina Angulo had to get to work deciphering photos and videos of the original European production. "Basically, I needed to go back to the drawing board and start figuring all those pieces and modules, on how to put this together with our tools that we have in-house," she told NPR. "Trying to recreate what needs to be in this space, with the materials that we work with in the U.S.—because it came from Europe, it's all in a different metric system."
Once a plan was in place, our crews got down to it. A team of 45 crew members spent 14-hour days cutting wood, gluing, stapling, painting, building and assembling every piece of the Il Trovatore set. “It turned into basically an assembly line of build, paint, bring the painted elements inside,” Jeff told CBS Los Angeles. “Then assemble them into the scenery you see now.”
Though the odds seemed against us, after a whirlwind 10 days, our phenomenal crew finished construction on schedule.
"There have been so many moments over the last 18 months in which we have felt a surge of pride and gratitude for the unwavering commitment and creativity of the staff to ensuring that we continue to produce world-class artistry in the face of so many unprecedented impediments," said Christopher Koelsch, President and CEO of LA Opera. But the complete recreation of the scenery for Il Trovatore in less than 10 days is a display of next-level dedication, fortitude and resiliency."
So while this big reopening is special because we haven’t been able to stage live opera in 18 months, this specific set is also ultra-special because it was truly a labor of love, from a dedicated group of talented artisans who miraculously made it happen... despite all the drama behind the scenes.
See what else the world is saying about this triumphant feat of operatic excellence: