In addition to Joyce DiDonato, the Kansas City Symphony and its conductor Michael Stern, one of the most magical parts of Homecoming is the lighting design. For each of the very different pieces performed in Homecoming, lighting designer Jeff Ravitz completely transformed Helzberg Hall. It took over twenty hours to set-up and adjust all of the lighting. Ravitz is no stranger to this laborious process and has been doing lighting design for decades. In fact, for the last 28 years Ravitz has done the lighting for Bruce Springsteen! We asked him a couple of questions about his work on Homecoming.
Q: How would you describe your job?
A: As the lighting designer, I assess what is needed to illuminate the show as creatively as possible and as practically as possible. I have to know all the spatial elements of the show, the aesthetic goals and then I have to combine that with the facilities that I’m working in and the equipment that I have into some sort of a plan. Once that is implemented, meaning the lights are hung and they’re turning on and off the way they are supposed to, then I figure out when they need to turn on and off and what color they should be. So that’s the final element of creativity: timing.
One of the things about lighting that is so different from any of the other technical aspects of a production is that everything is about 20 to 30 feet away from us up in the air. So it always takes at least two or three people dragging out a ladder, climbing up and changing it. Or in the case of automated lighting, it takes pulling it up on a computer and programming it. It’s a really long and laborious process. Lighting pays back in dividends, but it’s very time consuming.
Q: What makes this project unique?
A: Symphony performers tend to be used to a very utilitarian kind of lighting and they can go many years into their career without being subjected to “theatrical lighting.” So what we’re trying to do here for this special is to find that sweet spot of what is comfortable for them and what looks good on camera. I really looked at all the angles and I knew that we weren’t going to turn this into a rock concert and that we weren’t going to be cue heavy with a lot of changes. My goal was to make it look really good once and then have some variations on a theme to give each piece a unique look.
Q: What were some of your inspirations for the lighting design?
A: Well some of it obviously has to do with the content of the music. My first and foremost goal was to make Joyce look fabulous on camera. I knew that she would have most of the close-ups so it was paramount to make her look great on camera. And then beyond that make the stage look somewhat appropriate. I couldn’t exactly light it the way I would if she were performing these roles in opera, where there might be a lot more shadow and a lot more theatrical lighting.
Q: What do you think of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and lighting Helzberg Hall?
A: It’s just visually gorgeous. Symphony halls sometimes don’t have all of the equipment availability and the lighting positions that we really need, but this hall has really made strides to provide a lot of good lighting positions, so that made my life a lot easier. However, one of the things we’ve had to deal with is in this hall is the acoustics. They are so unbelievably sensitive and perfect that some of the advanced technology, automated lighting fixtures that we wanted to use that need fans to cool the lamps, the fans accumulatively actually had an audible noise! We use these same lights in theatrical settings and nobody notices. Ultimately, we had to cut back on the amount of lights we used.
Q: Aside from making people look good on camera, what other roles does the lighting play?
A: Lighting really can accentuate the emotions of a piece. I do a lot of lighting for music from classical to hard core rock n’ roll and I find that lighting can help deliver the message of the music. Sure you can hear it and the musicians are delivering the music to the ears of the audience. We’re delivering the music to the eyes of the audience by mirroring those emotions.