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Himmelsmechanik - Eine Entortung

Deutsche Oper Berlin, in cooperation with phase7 performing.arts—a Berlin-based artists’ collective—presented an installation called ‘Himmelsmechanik – Eine Entortung’ (Celestial Mechanics – A Dislocation) from August 22nd to 26th to open the 2013/2014 season.

The opera production, which featured a ‘walk-through’ set for the audience to move around in, was supported by satis&fy AG with equipment that included ROBE lighting.

Mauricio Kagel composed Himmelsmechanik in 1965, and the artist collective, phase7, reinterpreted the piece in 2013 for the Deutsche Oper Berlin, with part of the performance staged in the foyer of the opera house. The production also featured a new composition by Christian Steinhäuser called ‘Dass die Welt verrückt sein mag’ (That the World May Be Crazy), which transposes Kagel’s leitmotif—the notion that the celestial machine is breaking down—into the reality of the new millennium. Lighting designer Björn Hermann, a member of the phase7 collective, brought satis&fy on board to put his concept into practice.

Taking Kagel’s stage directions from the ’60s as a point of inspiration, this musical theater production presented a real-world, 3D interpretation of the concept that the universe was unraveling. Free to move around during the performance, the audiences thronging the three-story lobby during the four performances were treated to unprecedented sonic and visual sensations.

Minimalist music, the occasional vocalist performing live, strategically placed walls and a dash of multimedia here and there conjured the foreboding feeling of looming disaster for the audience to experience firsthand.

A great deal of effort went into the lighting—especially in the lower foyer, where it served to confound opera-goers who explored the ‘Labyrinth’—a set of wood frames covered with canvas and equipped with old televisions showing clips of today’s “world careening out of control.” The performers’ chanting, cleverly deployed speakers and disturbing images projected onto the screen distorted the audience’s perceptions, leaving people momentarily disoriented.

Am I going uphill? Where am I? What awaits me around the next corner?

"This confusion was quite intentional and part of the production,” explains lighting designer Björn Hermann. “I relied on a simple effect to make it happen, using basic blue neon tubes on frames set at oblique angles to represent the skewed heavens.”

Hermann staged the light show in the ‘Laboratory,’ the last of the walk-through rooms, using mainly Robe Pointe and Robe Robin LED Beam 100 lights. Having tested many different types of spotlights before the opera production was staged, he opted for the Robin LED Beam 100. “Robe’s Beam light tested best with the quietest motor. I have yet to experience another lamp that runs so quietly,” says Hermann. This was one of the prerequisites for the production—another was the 3D surround sound achieved by deploying a vast array of speakers—80 of which were flown above the audience in the foyer. Speech intelligibility was also a key requirement.

Thirty LED Beams were arrayed in five rows of six lamps each to create walls of light that partitioned the space into four chambers, each casting a single opera singer poised on a pedestal in the limelight. Bjorn Hermann took advantage of the Robe Pointe’s razor-sharp beams to create well-defined light structures and the illusion of being inside the machine that researchers are using to try to arrest the “shifting of the firmament” in the “world displacement engine.” The lamps were mounted in close array on flanking towers to achieve this effect. The lighting designer also relied on Robin DLS Profile and DLF Wash lights in the gallery for renditions of Kagel’s composition. Augmenting the basic lighting, they illuminated a water screen.

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