News and Features

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.

Festival 2021 will see the Così fan tutte set, first built in 2005, become the first to be trialled using automation with our new backstage equipment.

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.

Why did you choose Così fan tutte to automate this Festival?

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.

Is this the first time you have automated scenery with the new equipment?

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.

Is there a particular set piece that has been automated to help the workers behind the scenes?

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.

What can the audience expect to see now that it is automated?

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.

Will the automated system be able to react to the conductor, like the manual backstage system did?

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.

What new production techniques will be available to Glyndebourne after the project is complete?

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.

What is the next phase of the project and are you looking forward to using when it is installed?

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.

What’s your dream future project when it comes to automation?

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.

As we continue to recover from a multimillion-pound loss caused by the pandemic, we are determined not only to survive but to thrive. Glyndebourne is a Charity and receives no public subsidy for the Festival. We rely on generous supporters – people like you – who are passionate about opera.

Please donate to the Annual Fund today. Help Glyndebourne remain a world-leader in opera production by supporting our backstage upgrades. Find out more.

Thank you for supporting Glyndebourne.

Image credits: Darren Elder backstage, photos by Charlotte Boulton | Cosí fan tutte, Festival 2006, photos by Mike Hoban

You might also like

Take a look at the Festival 2024 production of Giulio Cesare…
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we take a look back at th…
Read our top tips for a Festival visit.
Explore our latest job vacancies
Brighten the stage with world-class opera and artists
Glyndebourne Shop
Our online shop offers a great selection of exclusive and locally sourced products. Every purchase supports our work.
Become a Member
Enjoy priority booking for the Festival. Find out how you can join as an Associate Member
Support us
Glyndebourne is a charity and the Festival receives no public subsidy. We rely on generous supporters who are passionate about opera.