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teamLab creates an immersive operatic experience for Puccini’s 'Turandot'

teamLab forays into scenography with Director Daniel Kramer’s interpretation of Giacomo Puccini's final opera Turandot, to be performed in Tokyo, following its premiere in Geneva.

by Devanshi ShahPublished on : Feb 18, 2023

In the performing arts, especially theatre, there is a structure to how the story unfolds to its audiences. One of the key hallmarks of identifying this structure is the fact that most theatrical presentations are broken down into acts and scenes. While scenes are usually broken up to indicate different perspectives or parts of a particular event, different acts allow a shift in the storytelling modality. From a shift in location to a change in the story pace or even time jumps. A theatrical act helps compartmentalise a story. There are perhaps also more practical aspects to this. One of the first things that come to mind is the ability to indicate a change in location. The breaks help the backstage transform the scenography. Of course, with movable stages and evolving technologies, scenographic changes have become more dynamic. A recent adaptation of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot at the Grand Théâtre de Genève in Geneva highlights this change in an interesting way. Envisioned by stage director Daniel Kramer, the new production of the opera Turandot is supplemented by scenography designed by the international art collective teamLab. Perhaps better known for their light sculptures and immersive installations, teamLab makes their debut in scenography with this immersive operatic experience.

  • Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
    Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © teamLab, Courtesy of Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery
  • Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
    Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © Magali Dougados, Courtesy of Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery
  • Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
    Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © Magali Dougados, Courtesy of Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery

Having premiered in Geneva in 2022, the production is set to travel to raise the curtain in Tokyo, Japan, in February 23, 2023. Puccini’s Turandot first premiered at the La Scala opera house Milan, Italy, in 1926 and has since been performed numerous times. Traditionally consisting of three acts, the see is the first act reveals the characters, their characteristics and the plot. The events that unfold are an exterior or surface reaction, and the set design and scenery reflect the same. The following two acts deal more with the expression of feelings and emotions, what motivates the characters, their sorrow and eventually reconciliation.

Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © Magali Dougados, Courtesy of Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery

Kramer’s interpretation keeps the essence of this structure but changes its context. Instead of a kingdom, we see a futuristic dystopian game show, with Turandot as its head. Women are seen as the power behind the throne and men are consigned to be dressed up as idealised playthings of the women, or imprisoned below them. Men who dare to believe they can be the ones to marry Turandot, enter the quiz show only to lose, and be ritually 'deflowered.' Until, of course, the unknown prince (Calaf) enters the play. Understanding this dynamic is integral to properly appreciating teamLab’s scenography. It would be easy to get lost in the allure of teamLab’s laser, LED, and projections as merely an operatic experience, but by understanding the architecture of the opera itself one can truly appreciate the intricacy of the set and production design. This modern retelling relooks at the context but tells us the same story.

Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © teamLab, Courtesy of Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery

teamLab worked extensively with Kramer to bring his interpretation of Turandot to life and showcase teamLab’s own aesthetics at the same time. The project evolved over a five-year period during which Kramer and teamLab discussed ideas and explored concepts and took a deeper look at the metaphors and symbolism of the opera. Considering the set is dynamic, the length of each visual interpretation was carefully choreographed. In addition to the stage performers, and the orchestra, because of the structural and spatial quality of the light, each scene was realised, keeping three performers in mind—the orchestra, the stage performers and the scenography itself.

Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © Magali Dougados, Courtesy Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery

The stage has two rotating sides—the first is the game show, and the second is an interpretation of a subconscious world. teamLab utilises their experience with creating immersive installations to bring the audience into the narrative. It might be important here to create a distinction between being a viewer of a theatrical presentation and experiencing an immersive installation. The distinction becomes more important when one considered the dual stages created by teamLab. The first set of the stage looks at establishing the plot and creating an outline of the story that is to unfold. Here the audience is perhaps a bit more of a passive viewer, in the same way, one view and consume reality dating and game shows on television. While incredibly dynamic this portion of the opera is designed to be a spectacle. teamLab uses virtual light planes to create three-dimensional light sculptures above the stage, to create a sense of frenzy. In other moments the lasers are hazy, subtle and abstract, creating moments of pure calm and tranquillity and trepidation. The scenography extends the opera out into audience space to create the feeling that the audience is in, and a part, of the performance.

Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © Magali Dougados, Courtesy Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery

The subconscious world is represented by a large triangle LED structure that is divided into three rooms. The rooms are mirrored, reflecting the LED artworks and creating kaleidoscopic diamond-like rooms. These are meant to represent the mind, both beautiful and alluring, yet filled with deceptive tools. This is where Calaf has to deal with his own complexes and fears as he goes through a strange, disorientating world. At various stages of the opera, Calaf struggles through the inner chambers of this world.

Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva | Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot | teamLab | STIRworld
Opera Turandot, at Grand Théâtre de Genève, Geneva Image: © Magali Dougados, Courtesy of Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery

When talking about the scenography, teamLab said, "Transcending the notion of scenography, the opera space is created by a sculptural space of light. This scenography, which has been in planning and production for the Geneva premiere since around 2017, immerses and unifies the cast in the light sculptures, creating a space where the stage and audience are continuous without boundaries." The practice helped produce ideas and plans for the stage, which consist of simple geometric forms. Yet every form is realised and enhanced by teamLab’s digital light artworks. The revolving set makes use of glass and acrylic, reflective surfaces and combinations of soft white and stretchy black materials.

Making of video: Daniel Kramer (Stage Director), Adam Booth from teamLab (Scenography), and Antonino Fogliani(Musical Director) present the new production of Turandot Video: Courtesy of Daniel Kramer, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Pace Gallery

Opera Turandot is set to take place in Tokyo from February 23-26, 2023, presented by the Tokyo Nikikai Opera, with the support of teamLab’s sponsoring partner GC Corporation.

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