Automating Così fan tutte
Così fan tutte has taken an automated step in the right direction, as we trial part of the automated system in Festival 2021. Head Flyman Darren Elder tells us more about this innovative enhancement.
Darren Elder has been Glyndebourne’s Head Flyman for 19 years. He can usually be found high above the stage in the fly-tower, where he manages the moving counterparts of our scenery for each opera.
With a delay due to COVID-19 last year, we are continuing to fundraise for this vital backstage upgrade, through donations to our Annual Fund. This has allowed us to start the essential transition from a manual backstage system, to a modern, automated fly system.
Così fan tutte, one of the oldest sets in Glyndebourne’s repertoire, has taken an automated step in the right direction, as we trial part of the automated system in Festival 2021. Darren Elder tells us more about this innovative enhancement.
With this year’s unique COVID driven Festival, Così was the obvious choice for trialling the automation integration. Key elements of the scenery are very heavy and cumbersome, which can be challenging to operate using traditional flying techniques. This system gives us the ability to perform complex scenic moves easily and safely.
Yes, this is the first time we have used the equipment for a production. In February last year, we took a delivery of the first components of the system and had them set up ready to go for the 2020 Festival. However, circumstances transpired that we couldn’t use the equipment – until now.
Così opens with a café scene, in which a large café wall flys out of view at the end of the scene. This wall has practical doors that swing both ways which cause unwanted movement prior to it flying out. At 600kg, it usually takes two flymen to get the wall moving, as we need to overcome the inertia and friction of our manual flying system.
The automation we have integrated in this set will mean the operator can push a button to fly the wall out of view, with none of the physical exertion of the old flying system. It will also have the ability to slow down or speed up the transition for safety.
The automation is physically beneficial to the staff and keeps them safe, especially in terms of social distancing, as they would normally be next to each other for this sequence.
I would be very pleased if an audience member who had seen Cosí fan tutte before couldn’t tell the difference. In the past, some Directors have been surprised and amazed that Glyndebourne wasn’t an automated house and how smoothly we delivered some of the fly cues we have achieved.
The automation will definitely make some operas look incredible and make others significantly easier on staff, as we synchronise scenic elements to an accuracy that was never possible in the past.
A good operator can listen to the music and adjust the velocity of the cues to suit that scenario. The classic example is the final curtain landing on the stage, on the final note of the opera. The operator can adjust the speed of a cue in realtime in order to hit that target at the exact time the music finishes, even if that note lasts a little longer than the last performance.
Glyndebourne will be able to accommodate and offer more flexibility, technical agility, precision effects and synchronized cues to the creative teams that visit each year.
This winter we will be removing the lighting bridges and associated infrastructure and replacing them with newly designed lighting bridges. Additionally seven flying bars will be replaced with automated bars. In the winter of 2022 the remainder of the flying system will be replaced, and finally the stage floor and substage will be renovated in 2023.
I look forward to installing one or two of the new stage winches into a piece of scenery and making it glide across the stage. They are spectacular pieces of engineering.
If we could use the point hoists, stage winches, flying system, stage lifts, personnel lifts and a revolve in one opera, it would be a fantastic show and a great challenge to coordinate all this technology seamlessly.
Written by Jennifer Long, Glyndebourne’s Development Officer – Appeals & Campaigns.
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Image credits: Darren Elder backstage, photos by Charlotte Boulton | Cosí fan tutte, Festival 2006, photos by Mike Hoban