Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci are rarely – if ever – done together. The most common pairing for Pagliacci is Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, another tragic love triangle of sorts. This season, LA Opera has forgone tradition by staging two gigantic productions together in its season opening double bill. It’s a marriage of comedy and tragedy and a posthumous reconciling for two composers, who fought against each other so fervently, after Puccini premiered La Bohéme (Leoncavallo also completed a version of the Bohéme story).
It’s also a huge undertaking set-wise.
From their view in the house, audience members are not privy to the pure magic that goes on behind the curtain, while they are in the midst of intermission. But with a view from the bridge, it’s possible to see both the production and the set-up.
The bridge is a platform walkway, connecting our second-floor backstage area with lighting equipment. Before you ask, this seat is not open to the public, but it does provide an interesting view of what it takes to stage a sizeable double bill, such as Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci. Once the curtain falls on the 50-minute Gianni Schicchi, it’s the stage crew’s time to shine. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, Schicchi’s gigantic, 1940s-inspired Florence set is removed and a 1980s-inspired bohemian Pagliacci set takes its place.
Fifty-five crew members – stagehands, carpenters, electricians, props department, and sound department — band together for the change, all focusing on their specific disciplines. Platform sets for Pagliacci hang above the stage and crew members must pull various ropes all the way to precise, pre-determined points (measured with ribbons called “spikes”), in order to bring down the platforms (which weigh between 1200 and 2000 pounds each).
While this occurs, the entire stage crew strikes the Schicchi set, while the larger portions of the Pagliacci set make their stage appearance.
This includes the larger balcony piece, where supernumeraries portray townspeople watching “Pagliaccio’s” antics below. Lighting stands are also switched as they are on opposite sides of the stage for each show. Additionally, props are moved onto the stage, including the striking red Corvair.
At the 20-minute mark, principal cast, chorus members, and supers begin to appear backstage, ready for the show to begin.
Then the countdown begins! Tonio (George Gagnidze) takes the stage solo for his prologue in front of the curtain, while crew members make the final touches on the set behind him. After the curtain rises, some stage crew in costume will go on to bring the Pagliacci caravan onstage. That is the end of the final changeover, but Pagliacci is just commencing.
In the 30-minute intermission, the crew commits a feat of set-changeover that no words or timelapse video can fully capture (although the below video is stellar and should be checked out). It’s a large part of what makes Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci so difficult to stage together. (Our production of Pagliacci was originally staged alone.) Yet that’s what makes opera so magical. When massive sets combine with beautiful music to create two completely different theatrical masterpieces, it’s the stuff of legend.
There are only two more opportunities left to see Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci – get your tickets today!
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