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Salomè triumphs in Salzburg amidst sumptuous “Made in Italy” scenography

Interview with the Technical Director of the Festival – Andreas Zechner.

A “work of art” wrote the French daily Le Figaro and “splendid and disturbing” said the Financial Times. The “Salomè” staged by Italian director Romeo Castellucci at the 2018 Salzburg Festival, was one of the most successful productions of recent years with sumptuous, controversial staging, full of strong and introspective images, almost psychoanalytic. First performed in 1905, this opera in one act by Richard Strauss, based on the French play “Salomè” by Oscar Wilde returned to the stage of the Austrian festival. As the piece ends, a disturbing and iconic black mass dramatically engulfs everything, while the Vienna Orchestra performs the last notes.

Designed and built by Bene Vagienna’s FLY IN, the obscure final stage element (inflatable) brings with it “Made in Italy” technology and innovation

To be faithful to the concept of Castellucci – says company owner Mauro Oggeroin the finale of the Opera, the black sphere (10 meters in height and 9 in diameter) had to float over the characters, swelling very slowly until it devoured the stage and the cast. This would be impossible to do using fans and cold air which is normally used for inflatable structures. We thus created a hot air injection system (lighter and rarefied), preheated by a series of 30 kw electric resistors, to bring the inflatable to a temperature of 80 degrees, with a flow rate of about 4000 cubic meters per hour.

But this led to serious background noise problems – something that could certainly not be allowed in the midst of a symphony-opera. And the rocky conglomerate (in which the theatre is carved) made soundproofing of the inflation mechanism even more difficult!

To solve the problem, we created a tube of fabrics and sound-absorbing materials 20 meters long. In other words, a sort of gigantic, silent hairdryer! The solution was especially complex because of the logistics” – said Oggero.

The Opera was held in the Felsenreitschule, literally the “rock riding school,” which is an old theater carved into the rocks of the Mönchsberg mountain. This resulted in real technical challenges in setting up the scenery! We talked about this with Andreas Zechner, technical director of the Salzburg Festival, responsible for the set-up of the staged scene.

What were the main technical problems encountered in building the structure and how were they resolved?

There were three main challenges we faced.
First, to set up the black inflatable in the scene exactly as conceived and desired by Romeo Castellucci. It was certainly not easy to assemble and to manage the inflation of the black sphere, but Mauro Oggero and FLY IN succeeded.
Second, the inflatable material had to be designed to be resistant to a certain number of performances during the Festival and also had to be fireproof for use in the theater hall.
Third, its installation had to be reliable, functional and practical so it could be easily reinstalled for the next performance.

To overcome logistical problems, what were the strengths of the inflatable scenic element in its installation and use?

One of the main requirements in the theater and even more so in Opera is to minimize the noise of the technical installations. Oggero was able to solve the problem by coming up with the idea of installing the ventilation and heating system away from the stage, outside of the intended location for the object on the stage. Then, by connecting the inflation system and the air heating generator through a long pipe, he created a sort of silencer system. This effectively reduced the background noise.

Inflatables are increasingly being used to build sets. For example, in the current show of Cirque Du Soleil, "Toruk." Have you ever used this type of technology before? Would you have thought that they could be so functional in overcoming certain types of technical and logistical problems?

First of all, the designer of the set decides and proposes which materials to use for the elements of the set. Generally, the best way to work is with collaboration between set designers and the technicians of our theater. We make decisions together to achieve the best result. The “inflatable” technology offers the significant advantage of minimum weight for the set elements, especially when they are as large as the “black sphere.”

In your opinion, did the inflatable sphere economically satisfy the concept and desires of Castellucci in the scenographic of the Opera?

I would say yes. The inflatable balloon was one of the many black elements of the show.

The black color symbolizes Johanaan. A black hole, a black moon, a black horse, a black shadow and a spherical black cloud, a black sphere that grows during the last scenes of the opera, when Salome admires Johanaan’s head and his decapitated body. The shadow and the black sphere grow dramatically over Salome. At the end of the show, when his father, King Herod, asks to behead his daughter, the black ball is disconnected from the tube and the feeding system, and it falls so dramatically on the stage! A scene of great scenographic effect. A great moment!

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