The Enchantress

Treble Chorus of New England Educational Concert, 2009

A production of Victor Herbert's "The Enchantress"
March 6, Rogers Center for the Arts, Merrimack College

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I volunteered to help get the lighting and related efforts put together at this show, in a similar fashion to last year. The lighting designer was pretty much on his own, and given almost no setup time in what's a fairly substantial venue.

We did what we could, but the morning show [mostly for an audience of local school kids on a half-day field trip] looked fairly wretched.

Nonetheless, it ran, and the performers handed the mic around to introduce themselves to begin the Q&A session afterward.

So the LD and I decided to spend the afternoon before the evening show in a second phase of improving things, when we had the house to ourselves. With the added dimension of actually being able to use the over-stage electrics [unlike last year with the band shell in the way], this was time well spent to get things looking better.

The hall has retractable acoustic curtains along the sides, allowing some tailoring of how sound bounces around inside. We couldn't quite decide which way was best for making the softer singers audible, but later I hooked up a crossfeed from the mixer that the video guy was using to bring together all his little mics at the front of the stage to pipe back into his cameras, and figured out enough about the house board to send a very gentle bit of sound reinforcement into the house at well below the feedback level. Apparently this, coupled with stern instruction the performers were given to sing LOUDER and PROJECT on the next show, really helped intelligibility.

The LD takes a quick piano break. They've still got that nice full-size Steinway, here also doubling as a parlor side table.

Performers and staff drifted back in toward evening, got costumed up again, and reviewed things while others prepped the house. In the meantime we had vastly improved the lighting coverage, the LD had all his cues firmed up, and we also straightened the "chandelier" props where they hung on a fly pipe and gave them slightly less garish coloring.

Photo-ops before the show. The guy shooting here also does the video and had set up all the little mics to capture the production. For the evening run I set up shop next to him in the back of the hall again to try and get stills during the show. A point-n-shoot from the back of the hall ... tripod or not, who am I kidding when I think any of it is going to be really *crisp* and *detailed*??

Various warmups right before house-open.

Unfortunately the pillar-prop placement wound up making it look like the stage-left chandelier is sitting on top of it. That's certainly not the case, as the "chandies" are flown flats and there are several feet of front-to-back separation. It's also an artifact of my fixed viewpoint here.

The director welcomes everyone and introduces the show ...

... and the narrator brings us into the story. From the program text:
	The story of "The Enchantress" takes place in a fictional
	European country called Zergovia.  The regent Miloch is the
	current ruler of the country until Prince Ivan comes of age.
	When Prince Ivan does come of age, he must choose a bride
	from among the many princesses present in his court.

Act I -- The Royal Ballroom

Enter our six princesses.
	The many princesses of the court are wondering if they will
	attract Prince Ivan's attention and become queen.

They sing about it, and file past a place in the throne room to leave their individual messages ...

... and then retire to the parlor to loosen their stays and recover their wits.

The American contestant sneaks in...
	An American heiress, Marion Love, joins the princesses and
	tells them the kind of husband she is seeking.

She figures that she can simply buy her way into royalty.

	Meanwhile, the Regent Miloch & Minister of War Ozir are plotting
	to overthrow the Prince, while the Head of Secret Service, Troute,
	and the Prince's tutor Poff plan on foiling the plot.
Here we have the "good guys", agreeing that they need to proceed carefully amid all this high-court intrigue thinly disguised as social engagements.

As people arrive for the Ball, Troute and Poff reflect on how sparkling and attractive all the ladies look from a distance, but getting involved more closely might be highly unwise.

Enter the Regent, and much bowing and curtsying happens as he strides around the room.

He acknowledges the roomful of subjects ...

... and then delivers a short piece on the affairs of state and how comically corrupt they have become.

Enter the Prince, who joins his circle of aspiring brides.

"Oh I would have a waltz with you ..."

Much dancing happens, but not a whole lot of decision-making.

The program text explains:
	Prince Ivan arrives, and dances with all the princesses, unable
	to choose or decide his bride from among them.

Mostly because the Prince has become a great fan of the opera, both in mind and heart...
	Vivien Savory, an opera singer, arrives and enchants them
	all with her singing -- especially Prince Ivan.

The Prince's internal decision becomes fairly obvious ...

... as Vivien dazzles the party with more performance.

This is a good spot for some more notes on lighting. We weren't 100% sure how the stage blocking was going to play out, but after best-guessing on focusing the wash components it turned out that it was pretty hot at downstage-ish center in the ballroom. This actually worked really well as the central players tended to come to the fore that area, which highlighted them nicely. It also helps that Vivien here has the whitest-white dress amid all the relatively pastel rest.

The camera's perception of the dynamic range difference is even more profound, and I had to do a lot of post-fixup in the photos to bring people out of the darkness in the back so we can see them here at all. That's why the background people look a little flat and grey sometimes -- I was desperately trying to pull a little detail out of very photographically dark regions, and there's only so much one can do and not have it look totally awful. But shooting any brighter [e.g. slower] would have not only bloomed the fore-people into white blobs, it would have let in a lot more motion blur, so staying on the dark side was deliberate.

Setting a manual white-balance calibration was essential for getting the captured colors even close to right. Regular "tungsten" mode would have drifted way too far toward the pink, given the LD's gel selections, so I'm glad I went up on stage with a piece of paper to give the camera a more accurate notion of our spectrum. Even then a touch of "de-greening" was necessary here and there. Our eyes and brains adapt, but a digital camera is often very unforgiving.

I will also note that my own knowledge of the story details gets pretty hazy past this point, so the commentary is kept deliberately sketchy and relies mostly on the program notes. Really, the point here is to just have the pictures available online.

Post-ball, in the boudoir...

The Minister of War shows up to launch his bit of deception:
	Ozir sees that the Prince will have to give up his throne if
	he falls in love with Vivien.  She agrees to seduce the Prince...
[What a great expression on his face as he delivers this!]

... which shouldn't be difficult. As she feigns some disinterest, the Prince pours his heart out to the rose he's holding as if it was her listening raptly instead, but of course all within her hearing.

But eventually she starts to come around:
	... but she finds herself falling in love with him herself.

The "good guys" try to break through the Prince's infatuation to warn him that there's a plot against him, but he's hearing none of that.

The rest of the court knows that something is up, and they can probably guess, but the rumors fly thick and fast: "... he has a secret he has not disclosed ..."

But we soon get our answer:
	When the Prince is crowned King, he announces his
	shocking news that he chooses Vivien to be his bride.

Since he has not followed through on this decision yet but has nonetheless come of age, he still succeeds to the throne. The crown is brought forth ...

... and the coronation ceremony proceeds.

More bowing!

Act II -- Vivien's villa by the Danube

[The country may be fictional, but apparently the river is not...]

The scene moves to an "outdoor" garden party:
	The royal guests are at Vivien's villa where they gossip about
	each other and complain about the weather.

This is insufficient diversion:
	They request entertainment and Princess Stellina convinces
	the other princesses to perform a song.

	She then proclaims how she wants to be an opera singer herself.
... against admonitions that it takes years of study and practice to do that, but she doesn't care, she think she can sing fine now and just wants to be a prima donna!

Aunt Moumoute gets more information about Vivien's feelings, but if that was intended to remain secret, it won't last long.

The supposedly very wealthy Spaniard Gorgonzola bursts in, who isn't really himself at all:
	Meanwhile, a disguised Troute seduces Vivien's aunt Moumoute to
	get more information from her.

She totally falls for it, though ...

... intrigued by this exotic and energetic character.

Vivien and the Prince arrive, chasing Auntie away in the process ...

... and reaffirm their love for each other, despite her misgivings.

While back outside, the American tries to demonstrate several dance styles she's seen in her travels, and tries to get the princesses to follow along.

And doesn't realize that as she finishes up her multi-styled demo with a flourish, that everyone else has quietly vanished!

Meanwhile, Troute's ruse has revealed more important information, which he also makes Poff aware of:
	He later confides to Poff that he has discovered something
	about Vivien -- she is a princess after all!

Back in disguise, as boisterous Russian royalty this time, he places more of the plan in action:
	He tells Vivien that Ozir had been using her to overthrow the Prince.
... while losing his stick-on moustache *again*.

[I'm not sure if that was part of the script or just an adhesive malfunction, since it also happened in the morning run.]

Everyone returns to the party, where Vivien hatches her counter-plan:

	She decides to foil Ozir's plans by getting him drunk and stealing
	the abdication papers.
Aided by Troute once again, this time in the guise of the waiter serving drinks.

Everything rapidly sorts itself out:
	She tells Prince Ivan that she will not let him abdicate his
	throne but Troute steps in and announces that she is a princess
	and can therefore marry Prince Ivan.

And they all presumably live happily ever after, although we're left with a slightly nagging question whether Ozir and the old Regent will receive any unemployment benefits.

During bows they all came *way* downstage, where the lighting fell off a bit and left some of them fairly unlit. More "out of the darkness" recovery work. Here they credit the narrator ...

... and some of them appear to have an amusingly odd idea of where tech is actually located, but that's the general idea.

And yes, many of the male characters were played by girls.

_H* 090318