March 06, 2019

Technical Director Michael Smallwood Talks RIGOLETTO

After a successful run at the San Francisco Opera earlier this summer, this new-to-Lyric production of Rigoletto heads straight to Chicago! Michael Smallwood, Lyric's technical director, opens up about what moving an opera's sets, costumes, and props from one city to another really entails.

To start off, the sets and props of Rigoletto were packed up right off the SFO stage into five 40ft containers. In the course of just two days, the containers traveled from one city to the next by railroad, yet the loading in processes to the new stage can take around three to four days. Many of the Rigoletto pieces are smaller, which means it can take longer to load in than other shows.

While the sets were made for SFO, Smallwood does not foresee many challenges in adjusting for Lyric, since the two stages are remarkably similar. Additionally, he says that SFO makes its sets to rep, meaning they are made specifically to come together and apart quickly for smooth transitions. Smallwood says the hardest part about the set from a technical standpoint is that it has a very specific and precise set-up for the start of every performance. Like pieces of a puzzle, if any piece is off, the design simply won’t work.

Lyric is used to this pressure; between a third and half of Lyric's productions are rented from other companies. While not all the sets are made to rep, depending on the show’s age, Smallwood says there is plenty of information available to help the technicians prepare. They start researching the shows about a year out: watching videos, looking at sketch renderings, going through production photos to understand how to adjust each piece for the Lyric’s stage. This allows them to adequately prepare for any necessary adjustments. Should there be any issues, the technical team always has Plans B and C in their back pockets.

After Rigoletto closes at Lyric, the production will again be packed up and shipped off to its next destination: LA Opera.

Lyric presentation of Verdi’s Rigoletto generously made possible by

Julie and Roger Baskes

Howard L. Gottlieb and Barbara G. Greis

Candy and Gary Ridgway

Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow

Production owned by San Francisco Opera.

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera