C Zauberflöte Seebühne (c) Bregenzer Festspiele-Anja Köhler
Some time ago, a puppeteer sold three small, fanciful dog figures at a market in South Africa. In 2014, they were seen thousands of miles away, on the Bregenz Festival’s floating stage: brightly coloured, with flowing manes and sharp teeth, each measuring up to 28 metres and weighing around 20 tonnes. Johan Engels, the set designer for “The Magic Flute”, had discovered the dogs at the market and was inspired by them when creating the sets for the production of Mozart’s opera, which was premièred in 1791 on the lake stage. He could hardly have paid the puppeteer a more spectacular compliment.
The dragon dogs symbolise the entrances to the initiations – Wisdom, Reason and Nature.
And the fact that they can be seen from far away also has a pragmatic reason: in order to make sure that the open-air construction was not lost in the noise of ships, trains, pedestrians and traffic, the dogs were built up to twothirds larger than normal theatre sets. Meanwhile, the highly sophisticated technology behind the scenes ensured that the whole spectacle of singers, dancers and puppeteers would enthral the audience.
Considerable physical exertion is required from the performers during each performance, which lasts around two-and-a-half hours
Mozart’s opera on the lake captivated visitors with Spiderman stunts, puppeteers and fantastic costumes
The swaying grasses were effectively illuminated in green, blue or dramatic red
The “Queen of the Night” raised three metres in the air by hydraulic drive
Every two years, a new lake stage set for the opera on the lake is constructed on wooden stakes positioned around a concrete core. This is firmly anchored in Lake Constance and houses dressing rooms and technical rooms. The orchestra plays inside the Festival House and the sound is relayed outdoors. Small screens are installed above the tiers where the audience is seated: these ensure that the singers can see the conductor. The set for “The Magic Flute” took 215 days to construct and required the help of 30 festival technicians and 37 technical companies from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France and England. Fifty-three remote controlled spotlights bathed the stage in dramatic light.
The green rotating dome in the centre, made of wood and steel, represented the shell of a gigantic tortoise. The performance took place on top of the shell, while important technology was concealed underneath: loudspeakers, ventilation ducts, movable staircases and lifts. Rail tracks run in a circle around the lake stage two-and-half metres below the surface of the water. These transport elements such as the gondola, which is more than 13 metres long.
However, all the technology behind this open-air spectacle requires no little courage and daring on the part of the performers, who have to exert themselves to the utmost both artistically and physically.
After all, they have to sing and act outdoors, have a good head for heights, and be able to swim more or less elegantly to land should they accidentally fall into the water. This is how the “Queen of the Night” found herself high in the air during one scene: the platform on which she was standing was raised to a height of three metres by hydraulic drive.
In order to make sure that such moments can be experienced even in the very last rows, the lake stage conceals an innovation in directional hearing: known as “Bregenz Open Acoustics” (BOA), it enables visitors to perceive the position and movements of soloists and other sound sources with absolute precision. The open-air acoustics are provided by 80 loudspeakers concealed in the stage set and another 800 in the auditorium.
A journey through seasons past
The lake stage sets at the Bregenz Festival have been changed every two years since 1946, and are always quite spectacular. Here we show you a selection of the most beautiful backdrops
André Chénier 2011–2012
Il trovatore 2005–2006
La Bohème 2001–2002
Un ballo in maschera 1999–2000