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Forza is a very complex piece to pull off... like an epic novel; Welsh National Opera are heading to the Birmingham Hippodrome to perform an ambitious Verdi trilogy and with them they bring an exciting new concept in theatre design - the Verdi Machine. DIANE PARKES reports.

WHEN the curtain rises on Welsh National Opera's production of La Forza Del Destino at Birmingham Hippodrome this March, audiences will receive their first glimpse of an exciting new concept in theatre design - the Verdi Machine.

The brainchild of WNO artistic director David Pountney and German designer Raimund Bauer, the Verdi Machine is a multi-faceted scene set which can be radically re-imagined for different productions.

And so, it's the perfect accompaniment to WNO's ambitious Verdi trilogy which sees the company working with German opera house Oper der Stadt Bonn to co-produce new productions of La Forza Del Destino this spring, Un Ballo In Maschera in 2019 and Les Vepres Siciliennes in 2020.

For David, the Verdi trilogy offers the company not just the opportunity to stage three of the Italian composer's most compelling works but also the chance to produce them in a range of different spaces thanks to the new sets.

"Performing Verdi, and performing Verdi pieces with very large choruses, is very strongly rooted in the tradition of WNO," he says.

"Over the last few years we've done Verdi's middle three, the very popular pieces of La Traviata, Rigoletto and Il Trovatore, as well as the later work Don Carlos so I thought it would be interesting to look at a group of his late middle pieces with La Forza Del Destino, Un Ballo In Maschera and Les Vepres Siciliennes.

"These are where Verdi is experimenting - they are transitioning between those relatively simple pieces Traviata, Rigoletto and Trovatore to pieces which are much more complex and ambitious in terms of their content.

I thought that, one thinks Shakespeare would be possible an environment could be these three "When you think of Forza for example, it's a very complex piece to pull off. The structure of the piece is like War and Peace or Dr David Zhivago or one of those epic novels where there's an individual life going on with a love affair or something similar and these characters are torn apart then smashed together again by vast trans-continental disturbances like war or revolution.

"Forza is very much like that. It straddles several different countries and people meet by accident in the most improbable way but that's part of that genre of people's experiences in war or destabilised social circumstances."

To reflect the monumental scope of Forza, Ballo and Vepres, David wanted a new kind of staging which would be a part of the work, facilitating its story-telling.

"I thought that, just as one thinks of a Shakespeare stage, it would be possible to create an environment which could be adapted to these three pieces," says David. "This is partly because Verdi is interested in bold, epic, dramatic strokes rather than naturalism and so a similarly bold, epic, abstract structure would be the right kind of framework for these operas."

David turned to Raimund, who had designed productions of William Tell and Moses in Egypt for WNO in autumn 2014.

"Raimund came up with structural ideas of how to create spaces through the Verdi Machine," says David. "These Verdi pieces are very much about inhabiting different spaces and so the manipulation of space is very important. And it was also very important that the sets are used differently across the three operas so each has its own identity."

Raimund was quick to rise to the challenge of David's idea.

"The first time I talked to David, about three years ago, we tried to figure out what connects the three Verdi pieces and then how we could connect them through a set. It was very clear right from the beginning that we didn't want a stable set, we wanted a morphing system - and that is when we invented the Verdi Machine," recalls Raimund.

"We decided we needed a Verdi Machine at the very first meeting but at that point I hadn't decided how it would work, just that it needed to be some kind of machinery.

"It should work like a machine because this set is not just decoration - it has a role to play in showing the inner situation and it should support the stories. These pieces are about war, passion, church, destruction - all these powerful moments."

The resulting Verdi Machine is made up of three interlocking panels which can be turned, lowered and re-shaped so that it drives the production rather than simply being a backdrop.

director Pountney "Normally a set shows first act first scene, second act first scene etc but in these operas we use it like a part of the story," Raimund says. "We can shrink the space, we can open the space, we can fold the space, we can show very dark background and very light background, the very walls are hiding secrets which can then be opened.

"They are three huge frames and in one opera they are connected, then in the next they are not connected and then there are single walls which can be connected."

As well as linking the trilogy, the set also needs to ensure each work is distinctive.

"They are three different operas with three different stories so I also had to decide three different looks for the operas," explains Raimund. "And so we really change the Verdi Machine for each opera. The skeleton is the same and the structure is similar but the look changes for each opera.

"So it will look like three different operas - the audience shouldn't feel it's the same set. But when you have seen all three operas you should feel there's the same way to tell the story."

?La Forza Del Destino is at Birmingham Hippodrome on March 6 as part of the Rabble Rousers season which also features Mozart's Don Giovanni on March 7 and Puccini's Tosca on March 8. For tickets see www. or call 0844 338 5000.

piece "I thought that, just as one thinks of a Shakespeare stage, it would be possible to create an environment which could be adapted to these three pieces David Pountney
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Feb 16, 2018
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