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Making the Poulenc Double Bill

Take a look behind the scenes of this visual spectacular

Our double bill of La Voix humaine and Les Mamelles de Tirésias features some of the most eye-catching visuals ever seen on the Glyndebourne stage.

We take a look behind the scenes to see how some of the stand-out moments were created…

Hanging on the telephone

La Voix humaine revolves around one incredibly significant object – Elle’s telephone. For this important prop, the team sourced a PTT (‘postes, telegraphes & telephones’) U43 model phone which was made by Ericsson for the French post office. First introduced in 1943, it was widely used in France throughout the 1940s and 50s. During this period some calls were still routed through an operator, as seen in the opera.

The cable has been replaced with a cotton cord to make it more manoeuvrable on stage, as Stéphanie d’Oustrac navigates the tilting set.

Making babies

In Les Mamelles de Tirésias, the Husband uses his outlandish machine to create 40,049 babies in just one day. Easy enough for him, but a huge challenge for our props department, who had to work out how to make this surreal scene a reality. The first row of tots is played by members of the chorus, complete with bald caps and rod-puppet bodies, but the host of wailing faces behind them were crafted in our Production Hub.

First, the team created a number of prototypes (based on the production designs) in order to get the look of the infants just right. Then they made computer generated models of the baby heads, with five different expressions on their faces. These computer models were then 3D printed in various different sizes.

3D printed items are created in layers, which results in them having a slightly ridged surface. Therefore the props team smoothed the models out by applying wax to the surface. They then sculpted the heads, to make them more detailed, and the expressions on each face clear.

After this, the models were used to create silicone moulds. The moulds were filled with expanding foam to create the final heads. The heads are then individually painted to create the final effect.

Click through the photo gallery to see Beth and Mel from our props team at work creating the babies…

Machine made

Above: The Husband (Régis Mengus) with the baby making machine

Above: The precision-cut cogs are made of plywood

Another huge piece of work for the props team was the baby making machine itself. This vast contraption is made up of numerous moving parts, and has the additional challenge of needing to be under 1.1 tonnes, so that it can be flown in and out of the stage. Working around the weight of the motors and control kits, each item had to be individually weighed and adjusted to make this possible.

The cogs of the machine had to be precisely cut, so that they would look right and move correctly. A drawing file of each cog was created digitally, and then each cog was made from plywood using CnC (computer numerically controlled) cutting, achieving a level of accuracy that is impossible with hand-cutting.

Above: Grace attaches a plywood handle to the giant oil can

The props team also crafted the numerous household items incorporated in the machine, including this huge oil can, which is made from plywood and paper mâché, in order to keep the weight down.

Above: Jon welding brackets to fit a bike to the pedal-powered machine

Above: Jenni making components for the bike.

You can see the incredible work of the props team on stage in the Poulenc Double Bill until 28 August.

Photos: Production images by Bill Cooper. Behind the scenes images by Graham Carlow.

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