Preview of the "Rigoletto" stage
Bregenz, 3.4.19. Carpenters, metalworkers and other technical personnel are hard at work on the Bregenz Festival stage for Rigoletto. They join 46 companies involved since the start of the planning phase back in April 2016. Construction of the stage at Bregenz on the shore of Lake Constance began in the autumn.
The traditional preview and "topping-out" ceremony was held today, three and a half months before the festival opens for its 74th season. At present the stage is dominated by a colossal head with what resembles a clown's face. A pair of hands on the same scale rise out of the water on either side.
The Giuseppe Verdi opera, featuring the famous aria "La donna è mobile", is being staged at Bregenz Festival this summer for the first time. There will be 27 performances in all. The director and stage designer is Philipp Stölzl.
Stage still under construction
The surface of the head and hands looks as though it has been made of wooden planks, some of them painted and others weathered. The hand closest to Bregenz appears to be holding on to something. It is clenched, with fingers bent, as if gripping a thin object. But the stage isn't finished yet and the object can't be seen. The other hand is about eleven and a half metres high when its fingers are extended. The head itself measures nearly 14 metres from the chin to the top of the cranium. The rest of the gigantic figure seems to languish below the surface of the water.
A circus world takes shape
By the time rehearsals start in the second week of June the striking stage set will be largely finished. On the rear part of the stage, the clearly visible machinery attached to the back of the head gives an indication of how mobile it will be. The festival's promotional image for Rigoletto showing a collage of circus tent, bunting, clown's face, ruff and other items provides an imaginative clue about what the production could look like.
Currently around two thirds of the 192,000 tickets for Rigoletto (incl. dress rehearsal and crossculture night) have been sold. Seats are still available on all 27 dates and in a number of categories. The opera premieres the day the festival opens, on 17 July, and runs until the very last day of the season, 18 August 2019. Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, a beautiful, though chilling masterpiece centring on a court jester of that name, hasn't been staged on the lake at Bregenz ever before.
Stölzl: A colourful, circus-like world
At the presentation of the stage set, director Philipp Stölzl said: "Rigoletto is a fascinating piece. The music is full of catchy tunes. In the plot there isn't the classic separation between hero and villain. With this production we'll be going inside a colourful, circus-like and carnivalesque world, with a liberal dose of Commedia dell'arte." Stölzl, who studied stage design and was born in Munich in 1967, made a name for himself directing music videos for the singer Madonna among other acts, and has gone on to make movies such as North Face, Goethe! and The Physician, which have attracted a lot of attention. As an opera director he has worked at the Salzburg Festival, Theater an der Wien, Deutsche Oper and the Staatsoper in Berlin, among other institutions.
The chief technician on the lake stage, Manfred Achberger, emphasised the technical department's concern for quality. "The stage sets aren't built to last for eternity, but all the same they are designed and constructed with extreme precision and to the highest technical standards. Not just because waves, wind and water place a real strain on the structures, but also because we technicians are ultimately responsible for the safety of the artists," he said.
Exceptional opera in beautiful natural surroundings
Forty-six technology firms including engineering companies, steel and woodwork firms and professional divers are involved in manufacturing and building the stage. Most of the companies are based in the federal state of Vorarlberg. A lake stage at Bregenz costs an average of eight million euros, including the dismantling at the end of the second season.
Everybody involved is working towards that special moment when exceptional opera in beautiful natural surroundings dazzles and delights a big audience. That day comes on 17 July, when Rigoletto is performed on stage for the first time at Bregenz Festival.
The 2019 Bregenz Festival runs from 17 July to 18 August. For tickets and information, visit www.bregenzerfestspiele.com or call tel. 0043 5574 4076.