Michael Whitfield was standing on a pulpit Tuesday afternoon, a giant crucifix behind him. Where he pointed, light appeared. When he spoke, people obeyed.
For a moment I though I had my angle: Lighting designer of the San Diego Opera as God. Let there be spotlight.
But the more time I spent around Whitfield, the less it seemed like an apt metaphor. Because unlike God, Whitfield asks for feedback. And he’s not one to smite, at least not as far as I could tell from my brief interaction with him Tuesday, when I snuck in for a brief peek at how the lighting and tech setup is being assembled, four days before opening night. (I’ll check back with Whitfield tonight for more.)
The lights were already in position, so Whitfield’s task Tuesday was to get them properly oriented and focused. Jamie Hill, a light technician from Texas who came to California on a whim and ended up working for the opera, perched on a platform high above the stage while Whitfield issued commands.
“We don’t want too much on the face here,” Whitfield called up to her, and Hill softened the glow on the holy visage.
“Catch the end of the cross,” he told her next, and she illuminated the bottom.
Hill’s from a theater family and said she could never see herself at a desk job.
“It’s not for everyone,” she said when she came down from the platform a few minutes later. As a lighting pro, her workspace is a jungle gym of scaffolding and wires and steps. “I love climbing around,” she said.
After setting up the fixed lighting for each act and scene, the crew prepares the mobile lights — the ones that follow singers across the stage. “Light walkers” stand in for characters and the technicians plan how the lights will follow them.
And while all this was going on, Darin Hibi was kneeling next to a scaffolding with a fine brush, painting the bolts dark gray, making sure the lights illuminate nothing but what should be in focus.
No glinting metal.
Just the stars.
Here are some more photographs by Sam Hodgson of those lighting and tech setup exercises:
Previously in “Countdown to Curtain:”Opera as a : monumental cottage industry. Company started thinking all the way back in 2006 about doing “Faust” this season. Nine hours after the last performance of the previous opera, the sets crew tears down 18th-century opulence to begin setting up the somber scenery for “Faust.” With little time to spare, the costume director for an opera puts puzzles together and finds ways to make quick changes possible. And what happens when one of the main singers calls in sick?
Roxana Popescu is a San Diego arts writer. You can reach her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.