Design Process of Orfeo
( La Favola D'Orfeo)
by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Text by Alessandro Striggio
But that was long before
when Orpheus played,
And golden hands on golden strings made golden tones. 1
Morrison 31st Jan 1960
School of Music
11th - 15th June 2002
Photographs by Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski, Derek Jolly and Ian Macdonald
discussion of the process and influences in the Set Design of Monteverdi's
Orfeo in relation to the work of Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski.
A practical application of the research into the work of the artist
and an extension of his directions and ideals.
stage views, Bremner Production, Union Hall, University of Adelaide.
Beclu and Ian Macdonald
are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts,
have their root in Greece.
[Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822]
opportunity to launch into the theatrical unknown and to explore
the process of tradition, discovery and application is one of the
most confronting, taxing and yet rewarding processes available to
the creative artist. Add to this the unique foibles of the operatic
genre and the process becomes the creation of an enclosed world,
held together by the common thread of music and visual spectacle
with the demigods of the particular creation taking their place
in the evolutionary processes of the genre. There is no question
that the process could be the equivalent of the creationist theory
in which the universe is created within the space of a few days.
The process is, however, connected more to reality of the evolution
of the world as we know it. It is a matter of trial and error, tradition
and excellence and of steady process along whatever path the common
threads leads. The production of an event within the operatic world,
for a short time, in a confined space, produces a view of the whole
of this enclosed reality with the need for insight into the past
and knowledge that the future will continue its evolutionary path.
one is involved in such a production with the added bonus of a cast
and crew of emerging talents, the process is certainly elevated
to a position of importance in this evolution. While there are new
opportunities for expression, the genre is flexible enough to allow
for experimentation and as there is a supply of new and unfettered
practitioners the evolution will continue in one form or another
until a new and more satisfying universe is created.
Frontispiece of the earliest copy of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo
Orfeo was first produced in Mantua at the Accademia degl'Invaghitti,
in February 1607 making it, not the first opera but perhaps the
most successful opera in the then short history of the art form.
It was indeed the second opera to be based on the Orphic legends
with Peri's Euridice appearing in the year 1600. The Camerata,
a group of aristocratic composers of the late sixteenth century,
declared the intention to reproduce the combination of words and
music which had been the basis of Greek Theatre.
is a landmark within operatic history and according to Kobbe,
in this opera Monteverdi was able to build on the foundations
which had been laid by the Florentine Camerata. Kobbe quotes
Professor Westrup describing the work as important not because
it broke new ground but because in it imagination took control
with his lute made trees,
And the mountain-topsthat freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing.
Shakespeare, Henry VIII Act 3 Sc. 1, L.3
pleading with Pluto and Proserpina to restore Euridice to him.
Pillars for inspiration. Giovanni Paolo Pannini
Union Hall, Adelaide University, 1968 production for the Elder
Conservatorium of Music.
upon his tongue that golden thread
Of song, comes Orpheus now to measure out
The sunless paths that lead him to his bride.
His music charms the locks from the iron gate
That guards the netherworld; his lyric hands
Unravel on the strings love's golden skein;
He follows where unbroken music winds
Its toils about her like a soft cocoon.
there in that house of dreams, she lies alone;
The spool is turned; she follows note by note
The golden thread that hauls her to the sun,
And shakes the dust like gold stars from her feet.
now at last, his soul's embodied song
Returns to the flesh that gave it woman's form,
The lineaments that like soft echoes bring
Her wild and sensual music back to him.
He turns; one backward glance reveals her face
Withered beneath his gaze; and stricken dumb,
He breaks that precious thread and stops the voice
That bound them, song and singer, in one loom.
cold wind sweeps the strings; arpeggios
Scatter; a transient butterfly alights
Where still at the cadence of all melodies
golden-limbed Eurydice dreams and waits.
Sound and Image Production of Orpheus)
The Creative Process
is the intention of this discussion to detail the particular production
of Monteverdi's Orfeo at the Adelaide University in 2002,
but it is also important to indicate the relevance of the amount
and type of research that took place in the concepts and final design
of the sets for the production.
is worth considering the elements that combine in the creative process.
Although these vary from artist to artist and from production to
production, there are some that are common to most artists and situations.
The artistic process is the result of necessity, technology, intuition,
experience and chance or serendipity.
The necessity is the product of the situation in which the artist
is employed to produce a particular work and in which the artist
needs to be involved in order to fulfil the need to create.
Often this need is determined by outside forces providing both
stimulus and constraints (financial, physical and artistic)
for the work. This could be the production of a visual work
for a particular occasion, a musical composition commissioned
for a particular purpose, or if there are no others involved
in the process the necessity is driven by the personal need
to create, to produce such works as are produced simply because
they are to be created.
The technology to be employed in the creative process is often
the result of the experiential work of the artist's predecessors
and their dedication to expanding their own techniques and range
of possibilities. It is true also that the technology needed
for a particular situation is not necessarily available within
the experience and knowledge of the particular artist and situation.
This need then enables the artist to combine and focus the collected
attributes of the group to the artistic process. In this it
is necessary for the various elements of the process to be complimentary
and not in conflict. If conflict arises there is a need for
discussion, mediation and sometimes compromise. Technology can
also be used for its own sake with the ubiquitous special effects
ruinning the danger of replacing the imagination and involvement
of the audience. The technology can be as simple as a pencil
and paper or as complex as the computer driven machines available
within the theatrical genre in recent years. It is apparent
that the complexity of extreme technology is often used to the
detriment of the final production by building in an artificial
feel to the work and by the chance that the technology will
fail at a crucial moment. The use of technology often produces
an impossible strain on budgets when machinery fails and needs
to be replaced, when unusual machinery needs to be obtained
either by purchase or by hire. Of these the chance of failure
is, perhaps the most worrying. It is the element of chance in
combination with technology that cannot be reckoned with except
by increasing the cost by duplication of elements of the technology.
is the element that determines whether a particular concept
will be appropriate for the particular situation. Here the process
is enhanced by the certainty that the other elements devised
for the project are those that are most relevant and appropriate
for the perfection of the final product. Intuition is the element
that allows the artist to understand a process or combination
of processes that have not been used before and to produce a
work of originality.
all the listed elements of the artistic process, experience
is the one over which the artist has the most control. Here
it is possible to develop expertise invaluable to the artistic
process. It is not only the work based experience that is of
importance. It is also the life time of observation, association
and experience that allows the artist to arrive at the right
time and with the right qualifications combining to provide
the personal and unique elements required for the artistic process.
most allusive element of the artistic process is that of serendipity.
This is the element of chance, tempered and recognised by experience,
that assists the end product of ground breaking possibilities.
Of all the elements this one is the least predictable but by
definition is the faculty of making happy and unexpected
discoveries by accident. 3 This, or the lack of it, can be the the element that conspires
to make the work a success in the eye of the critic and a dismal
flop in the opinions of the potential audience or abysmal according
to the expert who writes the presumptive truth that attracts
audiences in droves.
in the overall process it is the combination of the need for the
creative expression, experience in the genre, coupled with the availability
and practical knowledge of materials, people and appropriate technology,
mixed with the immeasurable quantities of both intuition and serendipity,
that allow a project to be successful.
is intended to draw parallels between this production of Monteverdi's
Orfeo and the various productions based on the Orphean legends in
which Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski was involved. The
legend of Orpheus has been the subject of many forms of dramatisation
and the subject of countless stories since their origin in written
form in the works of Virgil (70-19BC) and Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid)
(43BC-AD17) and others of the Ancient Greek
and Roman worlds. 4
That was the singular mine of souls,
Like still silver ores they went
As veins travelling its dark. Between roots
Was the source of the blood, that gave forth to men
And heavy like porphyry it seemed in the dark
Further nothing red
And unreal woods. Bridges over voids
And yonder huge, grey, blind loch
That over its far background hung
Like rainy skies above the landscape.
And between meadows, of the mild and full forbearance,
Appeared the pale strip of the single road
Laid in like a long pallor
(Trans. Stephen Spender)
used as script in the 1960
and Image production of Orpheus.
painting, Orpheus, Union Hall, University of Adelaide
1968. Elder Conservatorium of Music
painting flats, Orpheus, Union Hall,1968. Elder Conservatoium
and projected sets, Orpheus, Union Hall,1968. Elder
Conservatorium of Music.
images tableau , Orpheus, Union Hall,1968. Elder Conservatorium
Union Hall, 1968. Adelaide University, Elder Conservatorium
image photography, Orpheus, Union Hall,1968. Elder
Conservatorium of Music.
Classical costuming, Orpheus, Union Hall,1968. Elder
Conservatorium of Music.
Union Hall,1968. Elder Conservatorium of Music.
image tableau, Orpheus, Union Hall,1968. Elder Conservatorium
Union Hall,1968. Elder Conservatorium of Music.
images from the Ostoja/Jolly production of Orpheus in 1960.
Union Hall, Adelaide University
The 1960 sound and Image production of Orpheus showing the
projected images. Lorraine Irving (left) as Euridice and Max
1960 sound and Image production of Orpheus showing the cyclorama
upon which the projected images were projected . Lorraine
Irving (reclining, centre stage) as Euridice and Max Collis
as Orpheus (downstage) . Note the costumes of the chorus dancers
on the high leve, upstage.
Importance of Research in the Production of Orfeo.
finds, within a production, the opinion that the importance of the
music, for the operatic music director, or the stage direction for
the director, or the costumes, lighting or set design, for the respective
designers is regarded as themost important facet of the production.
In reality the combination of all these offices is a symbiotic balance
where no one element is possible without the others. While the stage
director has the ultimate decision in most matters each department
has its own beliefs, integrity and responsibilities.
is no less important, for instance, that the designer of a production
should carry out an intensive investigation of the medium, than
that of the director, music director and the costume designer. An
opera production relies not only on the music, including composer,
singers, music director and orchestra, but is equally reliant for
its relevance and acceptance on the direction of the whole and,
what can be simply described as, the "place" or locus. This term
"place" is intended to mean the foundation onto which the dramatic
process can take place and includes the sets and their relationship
to costuming and the properties supporting the cast and the dramatic
action of the particular production.
an overall documentation of the work of Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski
there was the opportunity to apply concepts and adapt ideas of this
artist to the production of Orfeo for the Elder School of Music.
With examples of works centred around the same subject matter as
Orfeo, but based within both the same and differing visual art genres,
there is an opportunity to discover more depth in the design process
than is perhaps available if discovering the legends on which the
opera is based for the first time. The process is both forward looking
and retrospective, with research into the life and performances
of an artist such as Ostoja done before such a production as Orfeo,
one is armed with a catalogue of techniques that have proved successful
in the past. With the practical application and extension of such
techniques, and then, in the safety of hind sight, it is possible
to discover that basic techniques evolve ideas that run in parallel
even if the initial connections were not made.
is, within a study of the work of Ostoja, the possibility of discovering
this artist's thoughts within the process of design because, firstly
he was a meticulousrecord keeper of all aspects of his work 5 and because he was a controversial character,
often interviewed by the media including the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation, the print media including news media, popular magazines
and also trade magazines concerning the particular technology that
the artist incorporated into his works. Ostoja enjoyed this attention
and used the opportunities of this media preoccupation to both promote
the works on which he was engaged at any one time and to prepare
audiences for his intentions for the future. He was able to manipulate
the interest in his career to his own benefit. The very nature of
the works in which he was engaged attracted the attention of audiences
outside the usual art audiences and, as such, also attracted attention
from less conventional print media.
body of information thus preserved provides the present designer
with some insight into the process and the needs for the design
of an opera based within the Orphean legends. For example, Ostoja
describes the Sound and Image production Orpheus in
Union Hall in 1960 as a combination of music, poetry, sound,
movement and photographed images projected on a screen. 6
He also indicated that he was not able to produce all these aspects
personally and he engaged the assistance and artistic input of such
people as Derek Jolly, a wealthy entrepreneur and patron with a
supply of photographic materials, cameras, projection equipment
and sound amplifiers; and Max Collis, who was well known within
the Adelaidian context for his extensive work in ballet and dance.
7 He also incorporated the works, often purpose
commissioned of other available artists including for the 1960 production
several young poets who showed promise at the time. These included Rob Morrison, Harold Stewart and David Malouf. 8 The symbiotic relationships working
towards a common goal in such a venture ensure are essential if
a satisfactory outcome is to be enjoyed by those involved and for
those who come to share the demonstration of the work.
little monetary support for productions in the sixties there was
a reliance on the enthusiasm of those involved and this, perhaps,
also added to the popularity within the audiences in Adelaide who
were keen to experience the always exciting works of this circle
of artists. Many of those involved brought their own circle of disciples
and audiences. Newspaper articles promised electronically-controlled
lights that would express the complex emotions of Orpheus as he
prepared to follow his lover down into the underworld and later
in the death scene. In the era of pre-computer controlled lighting
and sound, this promise, and the promotion of this aspect was bound
to attract a wide-eyed, expectant public.
stated his considered belief that the obvious was not art. He stated
that the creative artist must merely suggest and stimulate the
viewer with subtly wrought effects, then leave him to interpret
what he sees for himself. 9 He also stated
at this time that he was not worried if the public fails initially
to understand his works . The expectation that the audience would
eventually understand the abstract nature of his work meant that
they would be stimulated to use their imagination and would be able
to grasp the concept presented. This meant that Ostoja would always
have an audience as they learned to understand existing works and
then to face the challenge of his new works. Ostoja was always able
to stay one lap ahead, recruiting a following of diverse audiences
who were not always those considered to be the usual theatre goers.
attracted those who were technically minded, those with little experience
in the conventions in theatre and art and he especially attracted
the young, perhaps reflecting the constantly changing post war world.
Perhaps this also was reflected in the fact that the Adelaide Festival
of Arts, which began in 1960, had audiences willing to support the
variety of productions of the Festivals both then and well into
a study Ostoja-Kotkowski's work it is also of interest to consider
that in 1960 alone this artist, in addition to the experimental
Sound and Image production of Orpheus, had designed
the sets for Minotti's opera The Telephone, Berkeley's Dinner
Engagement and Hoiby's The Scarfe (based on the story
by Chekov) all for the Intimate Opera Company (later the State Opera
of South Australia). For theatre he designed the sets for Colin
Ballantyne's production of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (by Errol
John), The Adelaide University Theatre Guild's Teahouse of the
August Moon (by John Patrick) and Sheridan's School for Scandal.
With the enthusiastic support of Professor John Bishop, Ostoja was
able to apply his concept of "abstracted" scenery to Mozart's
Marriage of Figaro. He rounded out the year with Britten's Turn
of the Screw at Adelaide University Union Hall. The addition
to this workload of his photography and painting and other works
in that year provides an indication of the extensive work capabilities
and output of this extraordinary artist.
is significant that the education that Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski
enjoyed in Poland before the onset of the Second World War and the
art education in Europe after the war left an understanding and
love of the Greek Legends and in particular, the legend of Orpheus
and Euridice. Ostoja performed and designed several works based
on these stories, including two scripts for film, an incomplete
film, his first Sound and Image production and the opera
Orpheus written by Christoph Gluck (1714-1787), the latter
two produced in The Union Hall of the University of Adelaide and,
the last, produced for the Elder Conservatorium of Music.
when discussing the work Ostoja and he produced on a 35mm film based
on the Orphean legend, describes the subject as a favourite theme
of Stan's. 10 Davidson
and Ostoja worked on the film but soon lost interest because the
acting was inadequate and the shooting tended to be spontaneous.
He suggests that the film script that Ostoja had written earlier
in Melbourne and based on the Orphean legend, was an excellent
post-war expressionist script which he, Davidson, felt would
have been much more successful than the one on which they worked
together with its less structured aleatoric form. One wonders whether
this opinion was shared by Ostoja or is an expression of Davidson's
own thoughts as he was the more conservative and perhaps less artistically
daring of the two. Davidson was, perhaps, less spontaneous than
Ostoja and preferred the safety of script and written format and
this may have affected his assessment of the works. Ostoja was never
afraid of moving from the conventional allowing the chance element
to dictate the path that a work was to take.
the Sound and Image production of Orpheus in 1960
Ostoja commissioned several poets to write works for the event.
These included R.H. Morrison, Harold Stewart, Edwin Muir and David
Malouf. It is interesting to discover the words of poets written
at a time when their careers were not established ahead of, in some
instances, international literary careers. The production's programme
describes the work as combining Music, poetry, ballet, visual
images and compositions for lights. It included such innovations
(for the time) as rear projection, a combination light reacting
to music, poetry and recorded voice, live projection of changing
images, and "quadraphonic" sound. This latter, upon recent enquiry
of the sound designer and engineer for the production, Graham Milne,
would probably have been better describes as several stereo images
playing at the same time rather than true quadraphonic
This production used the very latest sound, lighting and photographic
equipment available in the world collected by Derek Jolly and Graham Milne 12 on a photographic
and auditory exploratory tour of Europe. There was, according to
Jolly, Ostoja and Davidson, no other equipment of equal quality
in Australia at the time.
in keeping with Ostoja's search for the light he had experienced
in the desert regions he took the opportunity to include a "colour
organ" in this production of Orpheus, which produced patterns
of light, composed and played by Nancy Claridge 13
Davidson makes the note that this style of instrument had been used
in the Bauhaus by the Master of the Light Shows, German/Australian artist Hirschfeld-Mack, one of the most influencial members of the who eventually taught art at Geelong Grammar in the 1950's. 14 Perhaps
he fact that there was an awareness and appreciation of the works
of the German artist's work in light and sound was a trigger for
Ostoja's development of light-based set design.
programme was so complex in performance that a note was included
in the programme to the effect that the technical effects relied
on various pieces of machinery and, while it was of the highest
quality, the management hoped that there would be no delays caused
by breakdown of equipment. In this matter there has been little
change in the intervening years and despite the enormous technical
advances in sound and lighting there is probably more opportunity
for breakdown now than even in the early years of Ostoja's career.
also had problems with lighting in his 1960 production of Orpheus
as the lighting team 15 had determined to use
ultraviolet light to produce the characteristic effect of this light
on bleached white objects and materials. Bleached paper, for instance,
contains the chemical Tinopal® (which absorbes ultra-violet
light and converts it to visible light) which glows under this light
and so the dancers, in the scene where "beasts and devils" and supposedly
Orpheus, were being torn to pieces by the legendary women of
Thrace (Bacchantes) they were costumed in white toilet paper.
The design intention was that the material of the costumes would
be obscured and unrecognisable as such but to be effective when
the destruction of the bodies took place. However,
when there was a complaint that the dancers could not be seen properly,
with the resultant increase in standard light, the costumes could
be seen for what they actually were.16
design for the production under discussion of Monteverdi's Orfeo
for the Elder School of Music, was based around research into the
Orpheus legend and into the design principles expressed by the Ostoja-Kotkowski
and on his various Sound and Image productions and opera
set designs for presentations based on the Orphic legend.
Death of Orpheus
the pluck of darkness at his sleeve,
That glimpse, as he turned, of her transfigured face
Receding, with its long sigh of farewell,
These wild-limbed, drunken revellers, who shout
For alien music, cannot make him play;
The golden strings are tangled and lie dumb.
His lyre had charmed Euridice to love,
And from death's dark, untravelled wilderness
Had led her, note by note, as the golden spool
Of song unwound its thread. How could he fit
An alien music to those strings, when she
Alone, Euridice, had been their theme?
shatters the lyric frame that was a hive
For honeybees and bore his golden voice.
Now silence is the nobler part; his soul
Is still. Though wine-dark fingers tear the mute
Body and cast the broken lyre away,
His tongue goes singing on love's deathless stream.
for the Ostoja/Jolly 1960
production of Orpheus
in the early days of opera, the composers involved expressed the
need, as a primary consideration, for the text of the opera to be
intelligible to the audience. Although this refers specifically
to the clarity of the text within the musical context, it also,
perhaps can be interpreted as referring to the ability of the audience
to understand the story, the drama and what the singers are, in
fact, singing about. The inevitable debate that ensues is that of
the importance of the text being sung in the vernacular of the audience.
the context of a production at the present time and in a University
setting such as the project at present under consideration, this
would mean that the choice of language would have been, and perhaps,
should have been, English instead of the original Italian. It is
possible that the elitist reputation that opera has earned within
the Australian context and wider, has been in part due to the inaccessibility
of the text to the society in general. There have been many surveys
done where audiences are asked their preferences as to the language
of the opera. In most cases these have been with regular and familiar
opera-goers who have knowledge of the genre, the particular story
of an opera and the common operatic languages. These have generally
favoured the language of the original work and have been specific
in some details. Familiar audiences tend to prefer the star system
where a Callas or a Witte, singing in their own and other familiar
languages. This is seen as preferable to a struggle with a less
familiar English. On the other hand composers have often been quoted
as expressing a preference that their works should be understood
by the audiences and therefore sung in the vernacular. These composers
include Verdi, Puccini and even the arch-typical German opera composer,
Wagner. In a country such as Australia where there is a mono-linguistic
culture and where opera attendance is largely restricted by box
office prices and by education to an elitist circle, there should
be perhaps more understanding and sympathy with the ability of the
audience to understand rather than a dictatorial, purist attitude
which could be seen as limiting the availability of opera to a new
and modern audience. It is perhaps important in the future of opera
in Australia that there is some understanding of the culture of
the potential audiences and not just that of the already converted.
Despite this Orfeo was sung in Italian!
As a general thing we find that the ancient myths do not give
us a simple and consistent story; consequently it should occasion
no surprise if we find, when we put the ancient accounts together,
that in some details they are not in agreement with those given
by every poet and historian.
[Diodorus Siculus, 80-20 BC, 4.44.5]
Legend - The Opera
the words of Diodorus Siculus in mind it becomes apparent
that the libretto of Monteverdi's Orfeo differs from the
myth as set down by Ovid and others who wrote of the legends and
cemented the stories into human experience and art. In this opera
the legend of Orpheus is one of passionate love, determined
spirit and ultimate failure of the main character to succeed in
his mission to restore his lover to life. Orfeo, the son
of the God of Music, Apollo, is in love with Euridice
and their forthcoming marriage celebrated by the shepherds and nymphs
of Thrace. The joy of their marriage soon turns to woe as a messenger
arrives and explains that Euridice, picking flowers to make
a garland, had been bitten by a serpent and has died. Orfeo
is overcome with sorrow and determined to travel to the underworld
to beg Plutone (Pluto/Hades), God of the Underworld,
to allow his love to return to the world and to life.
and Proserpina in the Underworld. Monteverdi's
Orfeo. Bremner Production. Union Hall. Adelaide University 2002
Orpheus and Euridice, Cast 1, 11th June 2002
Union Hall, Adelaide University. Bremner Production
wedding, full cast.
and his wife, Proserpina, discuss the plight of Orfeo
and she pleads with her husband that Euridice should be allowed
to return to the world above. Pluto relents and declares
that, due to his wife's love and entreaties, he will allow the young
wife to return to the world and happiness. He does, however, command
that Orfeo must trust that Euridice is following and
that he must not look at her as they ascend from the underworld.
They are almost at the end of their ascent when Orfeo is disturbed
by a sound that he thinks may be produced by Plutone's furies
intending harm to his lover. He forgets Plutone's command
and turn, only to see her taken back to the underworld. He has been
the agent whereby his love has suffered death a second time. He
wanders the plains of Thrace lamenting and pleading with nature
to join him in his sorrow. It is here that the accepted legend of
the hero is varied from the the operatic story. With the need for
a happy ending Monteverdi's opera used Apollo, Orfeo's
father, from the heavens and the hapless son rises to immortality
with his father with the promise that he will be able to see his
love in the stars for all eternity. This is perhaps the first usage
of deus ex machina, the flying in such a god in opera. A
triumphant chorus finishes the opera.
is careful to note that the original libretto by Striggio finished
with the more traditional, and less triumphant, tearing apart of
Orfeo's body by the women of Thrace, tired of the unceasing
music lamenting the demise of Euridice. It is said that the
women buried his bones in a place around which the nightingales,
taught by the grave's musical occupant, sing a more beautiful song.
design for the production of Monteverdi's Orfeo for the Elder
School of Music, was based around research into the Orphic
legend and into the design principles expressed by the Ostoja-Kotkowski
and on his various Sound and Image productions and opera
set designs for presentations based on the Orphic legend.
with many theatre productions within the Australian context, and
perhaps especially within the Australian university community, which
has, in the past been a bastion of experimental, controversial and
indeed, classical theatre, whether as organised within the curriculum
or as associated productions, there are constraints that dictate
the availability of expertise, materials and access to time and
place. Making worthwhile personal and experimental advancements
within the genre is becoming more difficult. The theatre world,
except for the top of the industry, thus relies on the expertise
and the goodwill of those who want to be involved and those who
for reasons of workplace or curriculum, find themselves involved.
For a director, designer or other members of a production team to
succeed they are often forced to accept conditions, assistance and
recompense below the standard of a decade ago They must generally
expend much more of their own time and resources in the process
than should be necessary in order to succeed. There is, however,
an expectation now that the artist needs to survive in a world where
the dollar is all-important and, unlike the productions in which
Ostoja was involved, there is some monetary recompense for work
expended within the theatre. If considered by the amount of training,
experience, ingenuity and number of hours expended on a project,
there are few who can claim that they are adequately compensated.
few exceptions, the various institutions involved in the technical
training of young hopefuls of lucrative career paths in theatre,
seem to have put emphases on some of the less desirable aspects
of the industrial relationships within the theatre industry and
are not passing on the traditions and perhaps the magic, the development
of the serendipitous, that theatre once had and should have still.
There is perhaps too much concern for the reasons why processes
to the detriment of risk taking and the creativity and experimentation
that the industry's ambience once engendered. The adverse reasons
that severely reduce the satisfaction of working in the theatre
industry include an over zealous attention to safety and demarcation
of workers beyond all reasonable expectation. Processes that have
been in practice for many years now need specialised qualification
to be included in a production. This in itself requires the payment
of valuable funds to, for instance, a technician who may only be
required to operate a particular effect for two or three minutes
but whose fees per performance may mean the cancellation of a particular
sequence, no matter how necessary it is to the overall process.
In this proposition there is no suggestion that there should be
a disregard of physical safety matters, but the anecdotal dangers
of major theatre productions have been and are being passed on to
the small space productions, without allowance for the change in
scale and the nature of the spectacle. With the request from the
director in the recent production that, for instance, the God Apollo
should descend from a catwalk above the stage as his entrance, the
production manager of Orfeo was unable to arrange permission for
a sporting and abseiling God to arrive from above. The process was
safe according to the abseiling team of the Adelaide University
but not in insurance-bound thoughts of Staff of the Centre for the
Performing Arts .
training of these young technicians is also encouraging the attitude
that they are a closed group and unable to participate in the overall
production values. The "us and them" attitude brings conflict between
themselves and the others involved in a production. In major theatre
this can be an advantage where there are adequate numbers of staff
employed and where there is a specialist for every situation. In
this case a defined and restricted duty ultimately means that the
smooth running of a production is assured by non-overlapping duties;
every one knows who does what and allows them to do their specific
duties. However, in small theatre this attitude denies the ability
to ask for help of whatever type and where and when it is needed.
Flexibility and initiative is, perhaps, more important where there
are limited team numbers in small theatre productions, where it
is necessary to overlap duties as the need arises. Small theatre
will make short shrift of those whose attitudes are limiting and
is apparent also within the training institutions for technical
theatre and design a fear of the application of the term "artist".
The training seems to be restricted to the mundane rather than the
intuitive. There is a fear instilled in the young technicians of
using initiative producing an inability to listen and absorb concepts
and a limit in the element of artistic risk-taking that has been
the adrenalin rush of past excursions into the theatrical unknown.
notable exceptions, the inability to research a production, including
storyline, style, opportunity and materials, is often found to be
lacking in the present regime of theatre education. This aspect
of process seems to be ignored in the training of young technicians
and designers although this varies with the initiative shown by
different individuals and some of the training institutions. Preparation
of a work is an intensive process and must be undertaken with rigour
and exactitude. With modern resources, especially the use of the
Internet, it is relatively easy to discover information about a
particular subject, including style, precedent, period and materials,
without much exertion.
result of this lack was very evident in parts of the production
process in relation to Orfeo and from the Centre of Performing Arts
who were to provide a backing to the production process, but who
showed little sympathy for the process and little expertise in teaching
the necessary ingenuity for assistance in such a situation. Within
the process of the design and the implementation of the design,
where participation from other individuals is required, one must,
perhaps, be resigned to the fact that not all share the same enthusiasm
and experience and that the final product will be, by necessity,
a degree below expectations. With other individuals one can feel
the muses smiling as thoughts are combined, concepts accepted and
initiative reliable. When this is so the whole far exceeds the sum
of the individual inputs. One must be satisfied with what one gets
in the long run.
traditional apprenticeship system of training for theatre workers
is one that has survived the rigours of time from the early days
of theatre. Techniques of construction, mechanical ingenuity and
adaptability, were passed from generation to generation. The mechanics
used, for instance, developed and used in pantomime in England enabled
the Wagnerian stage to operate spectacularly to the satisfaction
of the composer. In Australia, there were many "old timers" who
learned their skills by experience and from example and whose knowledge
and ingenuity were of the highest standard. The now legendary days
of the J.C. Williamson company in Australia, for instance, provided
several generations of "technical artists" with the gleaned best
practice of world theatre. The replacement of the apprenticeship
style of learning with institutionalised curriculum based learning
and the devaluing and retirement of the "old timers" has, perhaps,
left a serious gap in the collective knowledge within the theatre
wonders how far Ostoja would have been able to progress in a period
and theatrical climate where those who were employed to help were
under the heavy and cumbersome rules of the theatre today. His millstone
came rather from above when his ideas and concepts were either misunderstood,
rejected or disregarded by the Adelaidian arts administration only
to be accepted either years later, sometimes where their initial
impact was watered down by familiarity from elsewhere or used in
other places by other artists. Those who assisted on his theatre
floor were prepared for the long hours but they had a deal of personal
initiative, enthusiasm and expertise.
projected in the 1960 Ostoja/Jolly Production of Orpheus. Union
Hall, Adelaide University.
Australian Context - The Understanding of the Classical Myths within
Australia there are few individuals of the "mature" generations
who are ignorant of elements of the classical Greek myths as the
Australian Broadcasting Commission had a radio club designed for
children between the ages of six and sixteen, called the Argonauts,
where listening members were assigned a mythological boat name and
number and were enthused to "keep rowing" by the radio presenters.
The programme began in 1933 in Melbourne, went national in 1939
and finally finished in April 1972. In 1950 it had a membership
of 50,000 and a total membership of 100,000. Many more were regular
listeners but did not become members. Their theme was an honest
and pure life as they lived out the pledge written by Nina Murdoch
the originator of the programme.
the sun and the night and the blue sea, I vow to stand faithfully
by all that is brave and beautiful; to seek adventure, and having
discovered aught of wonder, or delight; of merriment or loveliness,
to share it freely with my comrades, the Band of Happy Rowers.
now, more than thirty years after the demise of the Argonauts the
programme would be considered grossly "uncool" by those of equivalent
ages of the membership, but the adventures of the classical heroes
and the news of other members around Australia, instilled an imagination
and feeling of belonging in each listener, no matter in which part
of the country they happened to be habitually glued to their radios.
The art of listening to the voices and stories of the Heroes, developing
young vivid, individual, imaginative pictures of the search for
the Golden Fleece has survived the years. The replacement of the
radio programme by stories in full visual and audio completeness
in the modern media perhaps produces a collective and controlled
image rather than the individual variations allowed by sound alone.
It is perhaps this enthusiasm for the Greek legends that gives older
generations of Australian audiences an understanding of the story
of the production under scrutiny.
is true also that there was some interest from the educators of
the young Australian with the emphasis on Greek and Roman Myths
in the monthly magazines that once were circulated both within the
Catholic and Public education systems at least in the Eastern states
of Australia. It is apparent also from much of the Australian literature
for children of the early to mid twentieth century that stories
such as Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie and the
Gumnut Babies, were based on the heroic mythological adventures
of the ancient world.
the general familiarity of previous generations of Australia, it
was interesting to observe, in the context of the production of
Orfeo, that there were few of the cast and younger members of the
production crew, almost without exception below the age of twenty-five,
who had previous knowledge of the Orphean legends. They were of
a different education era from those who were the organisers of
the project. In contrast, those in the audience, generally of the
previous generation, were able to relate the story to their education
and general knowledge. For those of a musical background and especially
those who had studied singing, the arias from the various Orpheus
operas have been standard repertoire over the years. For instance,
they were very popular in the era of the Sun Aria awards where perhaps
too many young performers presented "I have lost my Euridice
again" from Gluck's Orpheo ed Euridice, made popular by the
famous Australian singer Marjorie Lawrence, whose life and career
were an inspiration to generations of young Australian performers.
the Adelaide context there have been, especially in the Union Theatre
of Adelaide University many performances including theatre, ballet
and opera based on the Orpheus legends. These include the three
productions for the Elder Conservatorium of Music (two designed
by Ostoja Kotkowski) and the Jolly/Ostoja Sound and Image production
with the incorporation of Max Collis' ballet company, a assortment
of artists of a range of genre and other performance groups.
Research - Orphic Legends
are available on the Internet a myriad of sites relating to Greek
and Roman mythology, many devoted to Orpheus, his exploits, his
heritage and the love between himself and Euridice. These provide
a simple and effective way of becoming familiar with the background
of the opera in question. Of particular interest were several sites
edited by the Oxford University Press The Haifa University 18
, the University of Vermont's Ovid project
and other general sites.
sites provided enough background within the area of research for
an adequate knowledge to design the project at hand. In agreement
with Kobbe and Diodorus Siculus, it became apparent that there were
many variations on the particular details of the legends and these
gave food for thought and "permission" for variation and adaptation
of story to the particular situation, resources and production values.
Indeed, perhaps Monteverdi's intention in sanitising the ending
was, as Peter Quince in Shakespeare's A Midsummernight's
Dream states when Bottom suggests that he could roar
loudly if he were Lion
the duchess and the ladies,
that they would shriek;
(Act 1 Scene 2);
is possible that the ending was designed not to offend the gentility
of those in his courtly audiences. Altering the ending of the opera
also allowed the hero to ascend to the heavens with Apollo, his
father, where he would be able to see his lover forever in the stars.
and understanding of the period in which a particular production
of a well-known and often performed theatrical work is a starting
point at which the design process can begin. The director in this
instance, Tessa Bremner, an experienced theatre and opera director,
had suggested that it would be difficult, taking into account the
budgetary limitations of the production, that the period of the
play should be true to either the origins of the opera or to the
period of ancient Greek mythology. It was more possible to produce
a general, perhaps even indeterminate period piece, allowing for
the possibility of unrestricted and imaginative direction (Bremner),
costume design (Morag Cook), lighting design (Daniel Prizabilla)
and set design (Ian Macdonald).
-Designer Morag Cook
decision meant that the costuming could draw on existing articles
rather than purpose built costumes for all the cast. With a list
of nineteen major and minor principals and more than forty chorus
members, and in order to stay within the extremely low budget, expenditure
was allocated to specific and stylised costuming for the principles,
and the collection of existing, mix and match, costumes from cast
personal wardrobes and the many "op-shops" in Adelaide.
costume designer, Morag Cook, a student at the CPA, demonstrated
great integrity in her designs, construction and collection of costume
materials. Her knowledge of both the operatic medium and the "place"
of the work demonstrated also a capacity for detailed research applied
in an enthusiastic and particularly adaptive and appropriate manner.
season in which this production was to be set was as important in
dictating the colours, images and costuming, as was the setting
of the individual scenes. The character of Plutone (Hades) and the
legend behind him played a major part in the ultimate decision of
is not to be soothed, neither overcome, wherefore he is most
hated by mortals of all gods. [Agamemnon. Homer,
was decided that the actual seasonal period in which the performance
would take place was autumn. The justification of this was rooted
in the Roman and Greek legends where the God of the Underworld,
in this case called Plutone, but otherwise both Pluto
and Hades, had been infatuated with Proserpina (Persephone).
While the young and desirable woman was gathering flowers Plutone
emerged in his chariot from a fissure in the ground and abducted
her to the underworld. Demeter, Persephone's mother,
wife of Zeus, and Goddess of Harvest, was heart broken. While
she searched for her daughter the world was engulfed in perpetual
winter. Eventually, Plutone was persuaded to release her
to the world for half the year but, perhaps with some doubt as to
her sincerity in her expressed love for him, he had lured her to
eat the seeds of the pomegranate, ensuring that she would return
to him. This allowed the world to have spring and summer as a celebration
of her presence for half the year, but return to winter's bleakness
when she was in the underworld.
Proserpina (Persephone) interceded on behalf of Orfeo
when he pleaded for the return of Euridice, she must have
been in the underworld at the time and thus the season in the world
could be either winter or autumn. Perhaps the fact that Plutone
could be persuaded by Proserpina meant that their reunion
was recent and their love for each other renewed. This attractive
thought allowed the production to be based in autumn. This, combined
with Bremner's ability to produce many dynamic blending tableaux
using the large cast, provided a chance for a costume range of gentle
autumnal colours. With this serge of colours the set designer decided
to allow the basic elements of the set to be neutral in tone with
colour provided as described by the movement of the cast on stage
and with the addition of changing light colours and images within
the staging set pieces.
design process needed to take into account several physical considerations
dictated by the opera itself and also by the fact that there was
to be a large number of cast members, all of whom had to be seen
in the Bremner tableaux. There is little point in the director placing
people where they simply cannot be seen. This practicality dictated
the need for a variety of levels allowing for entrances and exits,
the ability of prominent performers to be seen and the fact that
there are many gods depicted through the opera who would, by protocol
dictation, need to appear above other lesser members of the mythological
main raised level was a platform (900mm high, X 1,200mm wide X 7,200mm)
across the upstage area. This was finished with a cardboard facade
and textured with a mottled stone/marbling effect of greys, pinks
and greens, designed to change in texture as the changing direction
and colour of the lighting highlighted particular colour areas.
Access was from two sets of stairs, not in view of the audience,
leading up from behind, at each end of the platform. To make an
entrance the performers had to walk, in view of the audience, to
the steps and then rise up until standing at platform level.
the stage left front of the platform was a diagonal ramp supported
above the stage by scaffolding underneath. This construction was
designed to give an impression of a bridge, or of floating above
the surface. It was also used to effect when choreographed figures
appeared from beneath. A set of platforms, tiered in parallel with
the downstage edge of the ramp, allowed different levels of performers
to stand at different heights and another triangular set of three
tiered steps from the stage right front edge of the platform. All
these aspects of the designs were practical considerations of the
production including the number of the cast, line of sight from
the audience point of view, and to provide a wide number of different
places in which action could take place, making the production potentials
as varied as possible.
during his set designing career, changed over time from conventional
painted sets, through changing projected still images, to the active
and ever changing abstract light projections, a blend of still images,
theatre lighting and manipulated laser beam patterns. His early
Australian experience of the light in Central Australia and his
endless search for equivalent light colours, led him to develop
the ability to use light as the way of "painting" his sets. The
production of Orfeo was perhaps the opportunity to apply this concept
and to work within some of the parameters Ostoja had available to
him and with his idea that the "painting" of a theatre set was by the use of light. 19
the possibility of laser projectors (due to the cost), it was decided
to use computer projection, the modern equivalent of the slide projectors
available to Ostoja at the time of his Orpheus productions,
and the use of projected light. The availability within the university
setting of several computer-driven projectors at no cost, meant
that electronic images were in the realm of possibility. How much
easier it is to be able to take a digital photograph, and within
a few minutes have the image projectable without the time and cost
of the conventional slide transparency processes. With the availability
of images on the internet that were appropriate to the purposes
of the opera the process allowed comparatively efficient and convenient
collection and manipulation of images.
collection of photographs and other images, included close up photographs
of autumn flowers and plants from the Adelaide Botanic Gardens,
digital images of water in a fountain and images of the moon, stars
and celestial bodies. These were to be projected onto rear projection
screens but in a unique and unconventional, but ultimately, most
the late sixties I had a conversation with Ostoja in his Stirling
studio about a series of thirteen "sound sculptures" that I had
designed. Sadly I was to produce only one of them but several had
intended to use images projected through contained smoke. I was
reminded of this connection with Ostoja and the conversation about
projections that I had had with him and was able to design a projection
screen that allowed two dimensional images to appear three dimensional
and giving a feeling of constant movement. This aspect of the design
proved to be both useful for the situation and of visual interest
to the audience. It is also a development that will be of great
use in future productions.
- Painting in Light
projection screen consisted of an open fronted and open backed box,
3.5 metres high by 5.5metres wide and suspended behind and above
the level of the back platform. The box was 40mm deep. The back
of the box was covered with a sheet of plastic, which would hold
the rear-projected image sufficiently enough for subtle definition
of the details of the image, while allowing some of the image to
penetrate. The front of the box was covered with a high-density
clear plastic sheet. From a distance this side either looked like
a window with images behind, or, with judicial use of light, able
to disappear entirely as far as the audience was concerned. Built
into the box were dichroic lights and in the bottom, two smoke machines
fed smoke into the space between the front and rear plastic sheets.
Thus smoke could be fed into the box and contained there. The addition
of a vacuum pump allowed for the extraction of the smoke as was
necessary for particular effects. As the projections from the rear
were altered the images became three dimensional as they were caught
by the smoke and as different colours and intensities of light were
projected onto the rear screen. The size of the screen and the angle
of projection, (from below the level of the bottom of the screen)
meant that the images were when smoke was present, in fact, different
for each audience member. It was intended to project onto the screen
from both the front and rear. This, however, proved to be impracticable
in the particular situation, as the projector's light was always
visible to the audience as a bright and incongruous distraction,
the computer projector suspended from the most downstage lighting
bar and inaccessible to crew members during the performances. It
is unfortunate that most computer projector lamps cannot be turned
off by remote control when not actually projecting an image and
the projected lamp image is always present. This was annoying to
anyone sitting in the auditorium and it made the front screen always
visible by its reflected image. In another place, in another performance,
this problem could be overcome and the screen could allow many more
possibilities for experimentation than were possible in this situation.
The screen provided an unusual and unique dynamic effect that was
in keeping with the values of the production and an extension of
Ostoja's set design principles.
final aspect of the set that allowed an unusual use of light was
the suspended legs at the downstage and mid-stage edges of the stage.
These consisted of a total of four sets of five pillars from floor
to borders made of tubes of translucent plastic 300mm in diameter. 20 This design aspect
was based on the clean white marble pillars of the ancient world
and often depicted in images based on the era of the Greek legends.
As the pillars were translucent, they were designed to be lit from
behind at the top and the bottom and were thus designed to be able
to change in colour and texture depending on the lighting and the
placement of the action on stage.
cylinders and translucent it was possible to see the members of
cast as they entered from the wings, their images distorted and
made vague by the cylindrical shapes, providing an opportunity for
choreographed experimentation. This aspect was put to particular
effect in the scenes in the underworld where the spirits of the
dead dwelt. Bremner placed a series of performers, dressed in black
with their faces and hands visible, behind the pillars. As they
moved slowly and in a stylised manner, their distorted shapes shifted
and changed, providing an eerie and seemingly infinite amount of
space offstage, where the souls of the dead roamed for eternity.
Here was a disappointment in the design process and an indication
of the inability of theatre technical training to provide an essential
and collaborative part of the design process. The cylinders, in
order to be able to change colours and to catch the light as had
been envisaged in their design, required a series of lamps from
the floor, upstage of the cylinders, and a matching series from
above aimed downwards. There were limited lights from above but
none from the floor despite constant requests and then insistence
on the part of the designer.
omission meant that the possibilities for colour variation were
limited and largely unimaginative. Scenes such as in the underworld
were mistakenly coloured simplistically with red on the cylinders,
on stage and within the sides of the screen. The lighting designer
before the production had done no research of the operatic medium,
the story, the place or the intention of the director or the designer.
The lecturer of the CPA had omitted to pass on to him the design
intentions and the requirement for these essential lighting effects.
lighting designer's image of the underworld was as the conventional
Christian image of Hell, filled with fire and brimstone where souls
are tormented and in danger of burning for all eternity. This image
of Hell is derived, in fact, from the cremation piles outside the
gates of Jerusalem where bodies were burned to protect the inhabitants
of the city from disease. Burning in Hell was, therefore, originally
a matter of communal hygiene and neither intended as a measure of
guilt nor sentence to eternal damnation.
the descent into the underworld, instead of a journey through a
place of many colours - because Plutone was the God of precious
stones, and the Underworld a place reflecting this - was accompanied
by desert-parched, lolly red light, over-filling the space and bleaching
all possibilities of the original image of both director and designer.
This was changed by the lighting designer's supervisor after the
final dress rehearsal and was thankfully better on opening night.
the other hand, Ostoja used diffracted light to produce images of
the underworld in his Sound and Image performance of Orpheus,
providing projections of many colours, changing live with the movement
of the machinery he used to move the angles of projecting mirrors.
costume became a set piece with cast members, Underworld Spirits,
making it undulate constantly from beneath.Monteverdi's Orfeo.
Bremner Production. Union Hall. Adelaide University 2002
design of Plutone's costume became a major feature of the
set, replacing the original idea of flying a black light reflective
backdrop behind and around his "throne", which would have been able
to retain the darkness of the underworld scene while allowing for
a multicoloured light reflection. Bremner decided that the costume
should instead be massive in its extent and able to cover members
of the cast who were to move slowly and occasionally to appear as
spirits from beneath the "skirt". His "throne" was to be the centre
point of the ramp elevating him above the floor and allowing him
to dominate the stage. As the God of Gemstones, Plutone's
costume was the blue of sapphires or lapis lazuli and to become
like a sea of movement. Proserpina was also dressed in the
same blue and both characters had blue makeup to compliment this
image. It was determined to project an image of a dark night with
a crescent moon as Orpheus ascended, followed by Euridice, to the
world above. This transition scene became very emotive of the love
between Plutone and Proserpine and the new moon a
symbol of hope for the young lovers.
begins with a brilliant Toccata played on brass instruments
and then answered by the other instruments and repeated in the brass.
This is one of the most recognised "fanfares" in Western music.
This music usually is played in the orchestra pit as an overture.
Early in the production process of Orfeo it was decided that
the brass players were to appear on stage, in costume, and with
a demonstration of controlled movement of the instruments and their
exit from stage. The performers were positioned on the levels around
the stage, dressed in red and black costumes. They began as the
lights faded up from black. During this music there appeared a group
of the Pastore from mid-stage right. It became obvious that
one of the performers was indeed blind. He was led onto stage and
presented with a very large book.21
He was led to the stage apron (downstage right)
where the book was placed on a table and he sat, opened the book
and began reading as if the story was in Braille. As he read a synopsis
appeared on a projection screen behind him, explaining the action
taking place, to assist with the understanding for the audience,
as the language in which the opera was performed was the original
Italian. The decision to present the story in this way, rather than
the usual sur-titles above the proscenium arch, was less distracting
for the audience as they only needed to refer to the words occasionally
rather than the constant distraction of constantly changing titles.
Pastore with the Story Teller seated. The
Book was given to the story teller who read the story of the
opera from it. The book and table were present through out the
opera on the stage right apron. . Monteverdi's
Bremner Production. Union Hall,
images and use of silhouettes in the Bremner Production of
Orfeo, Union Hall, 2002.
death of Euridice, silhouette.
mimed instruments. Detail.
is interesting to consider that this Pastore became the traditional
storyteller, perhaps this was Publius Ovidius himself, or
one of the other chroniclers of the legends, telling the story to
an attentive audience. The story he was relating appeared on stage
as the opera and perhaps the progress of the drama, and the projected
images were the pictures in his imagination. He sometimes sat at
his table, and at other times his imagination included him in the
stage action. The storyteller is an important figure in the preservation
of mythology; he is perhaps the observer, the historian, the custodian
of cultures and the interface between history, mythology and the
immediate listener and his descendants. Perhaps this character is
similar to the figure in the Bell Shakespeare Company's production
of Julius Caesar, who appeared in all scenes, dressed in
hand knitted jumper and hat. She was the observer who survived the
period and told others who were not there at the time. She was the
one who warned Caesar to beware the Ides of Mars but
to no avail. Perhaps the storyteller in Orfeo is the equivalent
of the character Public Opinion in Offenbach's version of the Orphean
legend, Orpheus in the Underworld, in which he pokes fun at mythology
in characteristic style.
use of the blind cast member in this manner provided the opportunity
for the development of this character within the opera, which proved
to be of great use in providing an explanation of the work to the
audience, including a valued operatic voice in the production in
a character that suited the performer, while allowing a plausible
explanation for the inclusion of a sightless performer in a place
where it would be possible for that performer to get into the obvious
difficulties of a dangerous workplace.
the Prologue, while the two characters, La Musica , dressed
in extraordinary matching costumes that included musical manuscript
paper and quills as head dresses, extolled the virtues of Orfeo,
the director used the fact that the rear projection screen could
provide a back light with the chorus, miming the use of musical
instruments and posing in stylised friezes as they were silhouetted
on the raised platform. The use within the production of silhouettes
became a feature in several moments of climax, portraying the action
that was the reason for the emotion portrayed.
chorus with rear projection of enlarged flowers. Monteverdi's
Orfeo. Bremner Production. Union Hall. Adelaide University
playing the Lyre. This Property was made of Huon Pine from
Tasmania and Perspex. The tree from which it was made fell
in the forest more than four centuries ago and it was of a
size that indicated it may well have been in existance when
the legends of Orpheus were new.
Monteverdi's Orfeo. Bremner Production. Union Hall.
Adelaide University 2002
Pine and Perspex Lyre constructed by Ian Macdonald
playing the Lyre.
Monteverdi's Orfeo. Bremner Production. Union Hall. Adelaide
the celebration of the marriage of Orfeo and Euridice
is carried out by the shepherds and nymphs the images projected
on the rear screen were taken from reality. They were autumn flowers
of colours complimenting the costume designs. These were close up
images showing minute detail of texture and depth of the flowers.
It was realised that the use of the rear projection screen for any
purpose other than as a conventional screen would, at this stage
in the opera, soften the dramatic impact of the effects available
and needed for more dramatic later scenes in the opera.
Orfeo returns to the celebrations he is greeted by the Nymphs
and Shepherds celebrating in the fields where
Pan, God of the Shepherds,
Was heard at times
His unhappy loves.
Here the gracious nymphs
(Always adorned with flowers)
Were seen to gather roses
With their white hands
is asked to play his lyre to match the scented breezes. Everything
is happy until a Messagiera arrives and disrupts the festivities.
The character explains that
I now with my words
Pierce Orpheus through the heart.
was collecting flowers for a garland for her hair
a sly serpent
hidden in the grass
plunged poison fangs into
Messiengeri arrives with the news that Euridice has died. Silhouetted
friezes provide "Grecian urn" images of the death.
Monteverdi's Orfeo. Bremner Production. Union Hall. Adelaide
while the unhappy messenger was telling the young lover of Euridice's
fate, the projection screen, which had a platform behind, level
with the bottom of the screen, was illuminated with an oval of light
darkened at the edges. On the platform and between the screen and
the projector, Bremner designed a series of tableaux depicting the
scene as the messenger described it. This produced a simple but
remarkable series of crisp shadowed silhouettes tableaux with the
several scenes reminiscent of those depicted on the Grecian urns
of the ancient world.
was of interest to discover that Ostoja had used a similar technique
in a Sound and Image production for the 1964 and 1966 Adelaide
Festivals and for the same production to tour New Zealand, Perth
and Hobart in 1966. Davidson describes a segment based on the music
of Henk Badings entitled Woman of Andros, in which:
image projected during the interval of
Monteverdi's Orfeo. Bremner Production. Union Hall.
Adelaide University 2002
colour images were blended into each other by means of rotating
polarising screens in front of the lenses. Movements of dancers
between the projectors and the screen appeared as silhouettes
amongst the coloured images.23
had been no connection made between the use of the technique in
Ostoja's production and the production of Orfeo and it is of interest
to note that the fact that similar situations, at different times
can allow similar techniques to suggest themselves. This technique
is simple and often such simplicity provides a satisfying result.
the interval the images on the screen were taken from the Hubble
space craft and showed an extraordinary distant constellation, reminiscent
of the images produced by Ostoja as abstract manipulations of colour
in the photographic processes he had available.
Projection. Monteverdi's Orfeo. Bremner Production. Union Hall.
Adelaide University 2002
image faded to a spectacularly clear image of the moon twelve minutes
into the twenty-minute interval. This image remained for several
minutes and then smoke was gently added into the screen cavity.
The smoke swirled around the image of the moon and it gradually
changed to a three-dimensional image with less distinct outline
producing a gentler impression. This device produced a transition,
moving from the prettiness of the autumnal flowers of the first
two acts, to the darker images of the underworld in the third act.
is determined to recover his Euridice from the clutches of
Plutone, God of the Underworld. In order to do this he must
persuade Caronte, the boatman, to ferry him across the marsh
and the River Styx in order that he can enter Plutone's gate
which has the inscription:
hope all ye who enter here!
is still lamenting the loss of his lover when he is interrupted
by Caronte asking who dares to approach before he is dead.
In this scene the lighting designer, as described above, was mistaken
in the intention of the direction. The red lighting was eventually
mitigated by the addition of other colours at the direction of a
lecturer from the CPA who had not seen this fault until the final
dress rehearsal. The lighting that was seen on opening night was
better than it had been but still not reflecting the images being
projected on the screen. Here there were moving images of rippling
water formed from a single image of the surface of a small pond
in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. Joel Beclu, a theatre technician
and a theatre artist of great expertise and ingenuity, took the
single image and manipulated it into a slowly changing ocean-wave
like body of water. Water With smoke in the screen this image was
constantly moving and, as more smoke filled the space, slowly the
water became more mysterious and marsh like.
the lighting on stage free smoke was introduced from the prompt-side
wing, gently filling the stage and continuing throughout the rest
of the act. Narrow side lighting beams picked up the smoke and the
faces of the spirits as Orfeo left in the boat crossing the marsh
and the river having lulled Caronte to sleep by playing his Lyre.
arrival in the Underworld Orfeo pleads with Plutone,
God of the Underworld, to allow Euridice to return to the
world above. He refuses until Proserpine intercedes for him.
He can take her back to the world only if he does not look back
at her on the journey. He must have faith that she is following.
goes well until Orfeo hears a noise made by the Spirits of the Underworld
and he, fearing that his love is in danger, turns to her only to
see her carried back forever to the Underworld.
Orfeo returns to the world without Euridice he laments
he had the eyes of Argus that could shed a whole ocean of tears,
They would not suffice for so much sorrow.
father, the God Apollo descends from the heavens and the
sorrowful son asks what he wants and the father chastises him for
lamenting too much. He asks
you not learned the lesson yet; That nothing here affording
pleasure ever lasts for long?
Apollo of the production in question was seen as a modern
character, dressed in white sporting costume with gold decorations.
It was intended for him to appear from the downstage left corner
of the stage, abseiling from "the heavens" with the aid of mountaineering
ropes provided and flown by members of the Adelaide University Abseiling
Club, very experienced climbers and abseilers. This process was,
after set up and rehearsal, short-circuited by the inability of
the technical staff to agree to be capable of manipulating the descent.
The safety measures involved in the process were proved to be more
than adequate and all the abseiling safety equipment was in place.
Sadly, Apollo had to make his entrance by simply appearing through
a flown curtain of shredded gold mirror plastic, the full width
of the stage, a passage that was lacking in the humour and surprise
that the audience would have enjoyed.
builds temple's crystal image
on timeless cloud:
arabesque light intervined leaves through
wraith's sound of worship.
hive is your home,
yoke is your life
Euridice No. 1 and Euridice No. 2
Orpheus in the Landscape
Euridice in Classical pose
Influence in the Design Process of the Production Orfeo
interest in performance work based on the Orphean mythology was
first evident in film scrips that he began to work on when he was
studying at the Victorian Gallery Art School in the early 1950's,
soon after, in fact, he had arrived in Australia as a migrant.
is evident in much of this artist's work that he was fascinated
by the legends. Just as there are many variations of the detail
of the storyline of the myth, Ostoja created, in his writing, his
own variations incorporating the character of Hermes who in Greek
mythology was alternatively a thief and luck bringer. He was connected
to Apollo, father of Apollo from whom Hermes
was alternatively accused of stealing Apollo's cattle and
that Apollo gave Hermes his cattle in return for which he
was given the cithara, the five stringed triangular lyre-like instrument.
also introduced a second Euridice much to Davidson's bafflement.
it is again, Euridice No. 1 and Euridice No. 2
. Suddenly I see that is very similar to Persephone:
half drawn to the underworld, and half drawn to the world. The
former is dark and dweller of desolate places, the later is
white and creator of nature. 24
is also perhaps a comparison to be drawn between the two Euridices
and Ostoja's own personal situation. This young man, having seen
the death of the life he and his heritage had known for generations
found himself in a new country, untouched by the ravages of war,
a place where there was light and hope and a future. The character
Hermes, the thief, was perhaps the means whereby the life before
had been stolen.
Orpheus' Lyre; power to cross the Styx
Crystal images in Pluto's, God of Gemstones, Underworld
in urban landscape
referring to Euridice No 2 continues:
the latter [the creator of nature] she is the absolute, the
origin of all creation. And representing the artist who moulds
the absolute into the creation of a world. The forms of nature
radiate from her. She has affinities with Leda, Europa and Persephone,
in that all go into the darkness during a period of gestation
before creating the springtime of the world. Orpheus
could only have his inspiration with him without always looking
for her. 25
colours of the Underworld
Euridice in the Underworld
mythical flying creature in mined landscape (Moonta South
the mythological characters that lived for a period in the darkness
of the underworld all were connected with the regeneration of the
world. Perhaps the second death of Euridice was too final for the
young artist and he needed to keep alive the hope that his former
existence in his homeland, Poland, could still be resurected. Hope
lay within the inspiration of the white Euridice. Ostoja,
especially exampled within his aristocratic demeanor, was perhaps
the Orpheus of the script, left to continue life without
a concrete past after the loss of all that had led him to his new
life in his adopted land
in the Underworld
Orpheus hears the sobbing shades
Of women in the dismal glades,
And seeks with her mellifluous dirge
His wife. But only harlots purge
Their shame with self-reproach's scourge.
Among the deadly myrtle trees
He questions many that he sees
Have plunged their hot Klavscidiousness
In cold Cocytus for redress:
In love with suffering and duress.
Phaedra, when the morbid maid
To spite her slighted love betrayed
Whom most she loved.
Wielding an axe,
Exultant Clytemnaestra hacks
Her husbandŐs ghost; but anguish racks.
as she hugs the vile
Paternal corpse, a necrophile.
Pasiphae, the royal whore,
Once coupled with a bull and bore the man- devouring Minotaur;
she repents her bestial vice
Alternately in fire and ice;
With Epicaste, she who led
Her son to an incestuous bed;
Myrrh, whom her own father wed;
And Byblis, Powerless to smother
Unlawful ardour for her brother.
Attis, beloved by Cybele,
Laments within his human tree
His severed masculinity.
Scylla of the sluttish loins
In Yelping deprivation joins
The discord. Cry and cry contends,
Till music's tenderness suspends
Their punishments, and foes are friends.
Even the Furies overhead
Have ceased to castigate the dead:
Their chorus of cacophony
Silenced to hear his tragic plea;
"Where is my lost Euridice?"
Orpheus and other poems
by Harold Stewart.
Images, background to Orpheus' Lyre
in the Underworld
Lyre in Underworld light
of a flower
Lyre in watery landscape
Lyrewith electronic image background
boat on the River Styx
in the Underworld
suggests that the Sound and Image production of Orpheus
in Union Theatre was under-rehearsed and that the dress rehearsal
was a shambles. He states that the performances went smoothly
enough although he was backstage working the projectors. He describes
Kotkowski as a Thespian Frankenstein as he directed and manipulated
the production. It was necessary, for instance, to construct a booth
at the back of the auditorium from which Ostoja was able to direct
the performance by the use of an intercom system
importance of this work was simply that there was nothing else as
innovative happening around Australia at the time. This production
had original poetry and narration, stunning visuals together with
original musique concrete and pre-recorded soundtracks of
may seem an extravagant claim that Adelaide could be the venue for
such unique innovation but, put in the context of the excitement
of the new Adelaide Festival of Arts, which was eventually to be
considered of international standing, attracting
innovative theatre and other arts from around the world. It was
indeed the fertile ground for such experimentation. There was also
this extraordinary group of immigrant European artists, mainly from
Poland and Latvia, whose striving for excellence and hard work laid
the foundation for acceptance of the unusual.
John Bishop, of the Elder Conservatorium of Music, founder of the
Australian Youth Orchestra, National Music Camp and the driving
force behind the formation of the Adelaide Festival, was very receptive
to the innovative, to avante garde music, and to the encouragement
of local productions. it was he, in fact, who encouraged Ostoja
to design many opera productions for the Elder Conservatorium of
Music. This was before the "internationalisation" of the
Adelaide Festival of Arts when the beaurocracy increased the imported
content with the subsequent relative fall in the attention to the
local arts. It was also the time when there were no other significant
arts festivals around Australia. It was perhaps the expense of the
importation of international performers that eventually encouraged
the development of other festivals in other capitals at similar
times. In the initial Adelaide Festivals bringing performers exclusively
to Adelaide meant that culture starved audiences would travel to
see them in Adelaide. The necessity to share the costs between cities
diluted the attraction and distracted the creative attention to
Orpheus Kotkowski's theatre work consisted of the designs
for the opera productions for the Elder Conservatorium of Music
and other productions at Union Hall. This theatre was a state of
the art building for the period, with the very latest in lighting
equipment, fly tower, orchestra pit, easy access for large set pieces
and a backstage which allowed for innovation, including the rear
projection of images used to great effect by Kotkowski. The staff,
including Reg Bennett, lighting, and John Blain, technical manager,
were experienced and expert in their fields. Patrick White, in 1961,
describes the theatre as the most up to date in Australia.
modest by modern standards the building is still in great demand
for productions although the traditions of theatre, nurtured by
the University in the times before the advent of television, have
been seriously compromised by the present usage as a lecture theatre. 28
1960 Derek Jolly returned after an extended trip around Europe.
He brought with him all the latest gadgets including stereo tape
recorders, the latest speakers and dimmers for projectors and the
very best of German (Zeiss)photographic equipment.
and Jolly called a meeting of artists of different disciplines in
the Jolly's home in the Adelaide suburb of Medindie to discuss a
multi-media production of Orpheus. Those artists who agreed
to join the project included poets Rob Morrison, Harold
Stewart, Edwin Muir and David Malouf
who were to provide poetry for the production. Dancers were to be
recruited from the South Australian Ballet Theatre with Max Collis
as Orpheus, Lorraine Irving as Euridice and Cecil
Bates as Pluto.
set included rear projection on two screens using Jolly's variable
transformers as slides were changed and dissolved into each other
on the screen.
production was so complicated that Stan constructed a control booth
at the back of the auditorium from which he could control lighting
and talk to the backstage through an intercom system.
was the first of Ostoja's Sound and Image productions and
it took place in the Union Theatre in the Adelaide University in
production received widely varying comment from reviewers and including
one to which Kotkowski took exception in On Dit, the Adelaide
University Student Newspaper.
responded to the critics with a strongly worded retort in ON Dit
on September 16th 1960 in which he writes as following is extracted.
is seldom that a production draws forth such a range of adjectives
as "tedious", "tiresome", and "interminable", "Pretentious", "vulgar",
"immature", "confused", on the one hand and "stimulating and different",
adventurous", "impressive", "smooth", and "fascinating" on the
other. "Sexy" was one comment and "sexless" another. Now that
the public has had a chance to chew it over and argue the pros
and cons, I should like to straighten out some of the idiotic
comments made by a number of the critics. To begin with, some
of the critics tried to hammer home that they knew all about the
techniques of presentation and that these had been used and discarded
in the twenties (E.V.G. of the "Advertiser", and Rosemary Burden,
and a critic without the courage to sign his name in Mary's
Own Paper). Unfortunately a critic does not need cheap slickness
in expressing an opinion so much as knowledge, breadth of understanding
and sound judgement. There were faults in this production, but
they were entirely missed by the would-be critics. If "Orpheus"
recalls the sentimental 1920's to the "minds" of the critics,
their criticism recalls feeble attempts by critics in the 19th
and 20th centuries who made fools of themselves by criticising
works which called for intelligent participation on the part of
wonder whether it was the musique concrete, abstract expressionism,
or poems written in the 1950's, all used in this production which
recalled the sentimental 1920's! The critics showed their lack
of knowledge of rear projection, which goes back well beyond the
1920's and which, far from being discarded, is being developed
this day in Europe. It was, for example, used successfully in
an advanced form at the last Brussels World Fair (though E.V.G.
knows nothing of this). They showed their lack of knowledge of
music; how on earth did John Heuzenroeder ("On Dit") find
Frank Martin in our production? A statement in "Mary's Own
Paper" claiming that "a whole generations of Germans saw their
first surrealistic painting in 1955! Is utterly absurd, and reveals
a lack of knowledge of the history of art. I saw exhibitions of
such paintings in Dusseldorf in 1946; those who were really interested
in such developments kept up with them in spite of oppressive
was warned before the production started that the story's thread
of symbolism might be difficult for some of the public to follow.
This led me to compromise by including a precis of the story in
the programme for those who did not know and for those who were
mentally lazy. I found later that the public had no great difficulty
in appreciation but the critics faied miserably, for example John
Heuzenroeder was unable, despite the explanation in the text,
to understand that a man seeking solitude and preparing for death
would turn to an atmosphere in which he could find serenity and
come to terms with himself, as he ought to do when entering a
cathedral or temple.
same critic failed to understand the criss-cross of Orpheus's
thoughts and feelings symbolised by the patterns of lights. As
for the production being "arty", judging by his article,
I doubt very much whether this critic would know the difference
between art and artiness. 29
is a brave artist (sometimes suicidal) that answers his critics
in the manner Ostoja chose in this instance.
a postscript to the above writing about the production of Orfeo
presented by the Elder Conservatorium of Music in 2002 it is necessary
for me to note that there has been a major improvement as far as
the training of the technical artists within the Adelaide Institute
for the Arts and their participation in the opera production for
2003. Very recently the cooperation between the two institutions
has improved to the extent that the production of Marriage of
Figaro September 2003, once again directed by Tessa Bremner,
has been exemplary with excellent student involvement in lighting,
set design, stage management and especially costume design.
is also interesting to note that, Mr Leonard Porter, the administrator
of the Elder Conservatorium of Music in the time when Ostoja designed
many of the opera productions attended the opening night of Marriage
of Figaro and stated his appreciation of the work that Ostoja
had undertaken over many years. He added that he wondered if the
cost of recent productions was higher than then. He mentioned that
the cost of the sets for Gluck's Orpheus was $300 while the
budget for Orfeo in 2003 was $3,000.
||1. Morrison, R.H., Orpheus Hellas
Vol 2, No 1, Spring, 1991 Glenside, Pennsylvania
||2.Kobbe's Complete Opera Book.
The Earl of Hartford Putnam and Company, London 1976.
3. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,
Oxford University Press, New York, 1973. p1946
4. Greenberg, Hope The Ovid Project: Metamorphozing
the Metamorphoses University of Vermont http://www.uvm.edu/~hag/ovid/aboutovid.htmlUniversity
5. In the Mortlock Library collection
of South Australiana, Ostoja's personal documentation occupies fifty
metres of shelf space of documents, photographs, publicity materials
etc. There is also a collection in the Ballieu Library in Melbourne
University and in his homeland Poland.
6. Farwell, George. He Gives Theatre a New
Look, article. The Advertiser, Sat July 9 1960, p20.
7.Farwell, George. He Gives Theatre a New
Look, article. The Advertiser, Sat July 9 1960, p20.
8. It is perhaps significant that there are
several poems by Malouf and Harold Stewart that have remained in
the extensive records that Ostoja kept and that are now lodged in
the Mortlock Collection of the State Library of South Australia.
When contacted David Malouf suggested that he had been very young
at the time and had improved considerabley since.These are poems
written when the young poets were not established within the Australian
9. Farwell, George. He Gives Theatre a
New Look, article. The Advertiser, Sat July 9 1960, p20
10. Davidson, Ian. Art, Theatre and Photography
(self published) Adelaide,1999 p34.
11. In a taped interview with Derek Jolly he
described these amplifiers as being made by Radford in England and
these were considered equal to the best in the world. The mixing
desk used for the production was made by Graham Milne specifically
for this Sound and Image production.
12. Graham Milne worked for Derek Jolly for
many years in the Adelaidian institution, Melbourne Street, a commercial
initiative of Jolly. Milne is still, although officially retired,
a valued recording engineer for the Australian Broadcasting Commission
in Adelaide. He had a reputation in the 60's and 70's of being the
best engineer cutting master disks for companies such as EMI who
sent their tapes to the Decca's Place recording studio for mastering
on the Studer master cutter. Much of the credit for the high standard
of audio production for the Sound and Image productions for both
Ostoja and Jolly, working sometimes in collaboration and sometimes
independently, must go to the exacting standards of Graham Milne.
13. Davidson, Ian. Art, Theatre and Photography
(self published) Adelaide, 1999.
14. Davidson p44 Hirschfeld-Mack had a distinguished
carreer marked out for him by the reputation he earned as a multi-skilled
artist within the Bauhaus. He was forced to flee Germany for England
as a result of Nazi activities. He arrived in Australia and was
interred for two years at Hay in New South Wales. He was unconditionally
released and became the master of Art at Geelong Grammar School
in Victoria. He is represented in most public art collections in
Australia but his isolation from his previous world meant that he
spent the last years of his life in relative obscurity. In 1922
he began work on his Lichtspiele or reflected light compositions.
These arose from his need to express the rhythmic and dynamic qualities
of colour through movement and music. He designed a complex apparatus
to project coloured forms, frequently overlapped in progressive
tonal gradations, on to a screen. The effect was of an abstract
film, although each show was a unique performance. Hirschfeld-Mack
and his team performed his Lichtspiele in several European cities
during 1923-5, and he himself provided the musical accompaniment.
In 1964 three of his compositions were reconstructed on film at
the Bauhaus-Archiv in West Berlin. Grove Art (http://www.groveart.com/shared/views/article.html?section=art.038260)
It is also of significance that several of the sound works of Hirschfeld-Mack
have been the subject of Sound installations at the Geelong Art
Gallery in recent years.
15. Stephen Wilson, Jim Bettison and Reginald
16. Davidson, Ian. Art, Theatre and Photography
(self published) Adelaide, 1999 p45
19. It was a remarkable coincidence that,
having worked in the production, albeit of GluckŐs Orpheus, that
Ostoja had designed for the Elder Conservatorium of Music, in Adelaide
University's Union Hall theatre, that I was now involved in an operatic
production based on the same legends, for the same school, in the
same theatre and using some of the principles that this master artist
defined. The time in which I was approached to design the set for
the production coincided with a period of research in the Mortlock
Library in Adelaide in which the estate of Ostoja is lodged. I had
been viewing his collection of Orpheus photographs for the 1960
Sound and Image production and the opera in 1968. As a source of
inspiration and information his collection was very useful.
20. This material is simply the uncut plastic
bag tubes used, as industrial packaging, and common in the packaging
industry, available in lengths up to several kilometres. This product
in many forms has been used by the author for many purposes from
set design, including a phallic representation of the Captain Cook
fountain in Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra, to the decoration of
Elder Park in Adelaide as part of the Come-Out Festival and the
International year of the Child Festivals in New South Wales. Here
industrial blowers were used to inflate the plastic tubes of many
colours and diameters with children able to play both inside and
outside depending on the diameters. Others of these were inflated
with helium and made into monstrous floating sculptures within the
21. This book 900mm x 600mm + 40mm was brown
in colour. It was in fact borrowed from the State Archives and had
engraved on the front Births Book 1. Inside there were no entries
in this birth registry but it was dated 1800's. It is possible that
this book was the first to be made as part of the then new colony
of South Australia. There were no births as the colony in fact started
to the latter part of the 1930's in Adelaide.
22. Monteverdi, Orfeo ACT V, duet
23. Davidson, Ian. Art, Theatre and Photography
(self published) Adelaide, 1999p46
24.Davidson, Ian. Art, Theatre and
Photography (self published) Adelaide, 1999 p36
25.Davidson, Ian. Art, Theatre and
Photography (self published) Adelaide, 1999 p36
26. Davidson, Ian. Art, Theatre and
Photography (self published) Adelaide, 1999 p36
27. Marr, David ed Patrick White Letters.
Random House Australia Sydney 1994 p 198
28. It is disappointing to work in this
space now with the ghosts of performances past, as it is used as
a lecture theatre for less artistic university subjects than music
and theatre. Although this was supposed to be a temporary usage
of the space one notes that there are the signs of permanence in
the technical equipment provided to the lecturers. With the stage
and backstage space largely unavailable for production usage during
the days production times of a show such as Orfeo are extended.
This situation is, however, better than the apparent proposal by
several schools within the Adelaide University, to pull the building
down and to construct a "more useful" space on the site. It was
the lobbying of the theatre manager, Jim Denny, over a long period
that secured the safety of the building for at least part time theatrical
use. Having lectures about economic rationalism in such hallowed
ground is like having a football match in a cathedral.
29. Attributed to Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski,
On Dit September 16th 1960. Adelaide University.