Behind the scenes at the Opéra National du Rhin

Dive into the creative process!

Greetings during the dress rehearsal for Fiddler on the Roof (2019)Opéra national du Rhin

The Opéra National du Rhin's renown and reputation for excellence are, to a large extent, due to the performers and artisans who work there full time, serving as inspiration for new talent. Their roles include some rare and little-known skills and crafts, reflecting their authenticity and experience. After all, before getting to that final moment when it all happens—the curtain calls on opening night—a great many creative processes need to unfold first.

Canvas painted in the painting studio at the OnR scenery studios (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

The skills and experience of the ONR's highly dedicated artisans and other theater professionals ensure the quality of the staging is always excellent. When the performers take to the stage, you can often see the members of the audience becoming immediately enraptured by the story. However, a lot of work is required before the event for that magic to take effect: creating, planning, designing, building, assembling, and making everything look magnificent.

Plans drafted by the studio design office for a set to be made for the OnR (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

Depending on the nature of the show, the set is built in numerous stages, each of which takes place at a specific workshop. First-rate communication between the different workshops is therefore vital.

OnR set studios (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

The weight-bearing structures that form part of the sets are mainly produced by the metal workshop, whereas the carpentry workshop produces all the wooden structures and decorative elements, and the mixed materials workshop takes care of decorative components made from resin, polystyrene, and plastics. Lastly, the painting/sculpture and upholstery workshops put the finishing touches to the sets. One particularly unusual workshop, devoted to special effects, allows productions to include the illusion of fire on the stage, fake explosions, and so on.

The ONR's workshops are located in the Meinau neighborhood of Strasbourg. They are the largest in France, apart from those that belong to the Paris Opera.

An example of scenery built by the OnR studio for The Barber of Seville during the 2018/19 season. (2018)Opéra national du Rhin

The Barber of Seville (Il barbiere di Siviglia) in 2018/2019, set designed by Pierre Emmanuel Rousseau and produced by the ONR's workshops

Hoists in the stage fly loft at the opera house (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

Huge sets are raised using "hoists" or "cables" (the French word for "rope" is never uttered while working on the stage).

The first stagehands employed at theaters were former sailors, so it was only natural for them to bring the language used on boats with them. Indeed, on a boat, every rope has a specific name, so the word "rope" itself was only used in reference to hanging someone or to striking the bell of the dead, so with these unfortunate connotations, the word was banned.

Strasbourg Opera House's fly loft (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

There are a number of special issues, specific to the ONR, that need to be taken into account when producing the sets. Its three locations (Colmar, Mulhouse, and Strasbourg) have different layouts.
The sets must be usable in each theater and be easy to set up and take down. In addition, the sets are operated using a fly system, which itself is activated by hand-operated weights and counterweights. As a result, they must not be too heavy, so the workshop staff have to find ways to make them both huge and lightweight.

Find out about the work done by fly-loft operators here

OnR costume studio (2017)Opéra national du Rhin


Meanwhile, other teams take care of costume production. This is another process that requires a large number of trained specialists. It involves numerous stages and very specific knowledge. The ONR has its own costume production workshop, which is located in the old granary building, just a stone's throw from the Strasbourg Opera.

Costume sketches (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

Soloists being measured for all kinds of costumes

Costume production cannot commence until the soloists have arrived at the opera house to begin rehearsals, and their measurements have been taken.
By this time, the costume designer will have already made mockups, and the materials will have been chosen. 

Mannequins used for making costumes (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

Did you know that it takes 30 to 40 hours to make a single costume?

Making costumes (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

It's a long process carried out by many different experienced hands
The cutters prepare the patterns, the dressmakers assemble the pieces, the milliner completes the outfits with all the necessary head accessories, the frame maker creates all the metal elements of costumes that require a framework (wings, crinoline, etc.), and lastly the plastic artist produces masks, does any dyeing, and "ennobles" the costumes (with sheen or the addition of decorative elements).

Making a shoe (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

The shoemaker produces leather items and tailor-made shoes for the performers. The ONR's shoemaking workshop is the last of its kind among French opera houses.

Costume shelf storage (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

When a production has reached the end of its run, the costumes are cleaned, packed, and placed in storage. The Opéra National du Rhin currently has 90,000 costumes in storage, spread over 1,178 meters of shelf space.

Using a hook to affix hair to custom tulle (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

The wigmaker produces wigs and hairpieces to suit the performers' head shapes, matching the style and the period of history in which the production is set, as well as the costumes produced by the dressmakers.

They contribute to the transformation of the performer, who can then fully embody their role.

From taking measurements to styling, each wig requires an average of 60 hours of work.

An example of makeup (2017)Opéra national du Rhin

Each character also has to go through the makeup process in order to perfect their appearance.
This starts about one and a half to two hours before curtains up.

Lighting behind the set on the OnR stage (2016)Opéra national du Rhin

Stepping onto the stage

Finally, when all of this has been completed, the performers are ready to make their entrance on stage. For the magic to take shape on the stage, a number of other trained specialists have to play their part to ensure the show runs smoothly: stage hands, fly-loft operators, prop handlers, lighting specialists, etc.

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