Adelaide Festival was treated to an orchestral performance of the songs of Daft Punk in Alternative Symphony: Daft Punk in The Summerhouse at the weekend. With Daft Punk disbanded, this is truly the closest we are likely to get to seeing them in Adelaide.
This is not a typical tribute to Daft Punk, rather its known as an orchestral rendition of Daft Punk. There are no signature helmets here though, but a frequent reminder of them through video imagery synched to the songs. An 18 piece stand-up orchestra (not something you see every day!) provides the instrumental sounds of Daft Punk’s tunes. All dressed in black various performers came and went, and we did wonder at times whether the stage at the pop-up Adelaide Festival venue, The Summerhouse, would be able to fit them all!
Two other performers, Carl and Jasper, entertained the crowd in their sparkly vest and jacket respectively. Both sung and only Jasper danced but I feel like the singing should have been left to Carl who shone in that area and the dancing left to Jasper (Carl said at the beginning he wouldn’t be dancing saying that he’s “too old for that shit”). Unfortunately, in some instances Jasper’s singing was out of pitch and breathless and detracted from otherwise flawless performances. As a dancer though, Jasper shone with some well-delivered moonwalk moves.
We mentioned the video imagery before, it’s worth noting that Alternative Symphony: Daft Punk put on an impressive visual performance as well – with a large LED screen at the back of the stage showing a range of graphics throughout the performances. Colour-changing lighting darted around the stage and towards the audience.
While it’s true that a lot of Daft Punk songs are familiar, few would know that they recorded more than 90 from 1994 to 2021! Alternative Symphony: Daft Punk may have benefited from opening with one of the better-known tracks to get the crowd hyped from the beginning. Whenever the crowd knew a song, they’d get up and dance. They could have had the crowd dancing the whole time had they opened up with better-known tracks such as Around the World, Get Lucky, which were performed but much later in the show. Sometimes you forget that Daft Punk collaborated with a lot of artists including The Weekend (Starboy), Panda Bear (Doin’ it Right), Rising Dust Ft Asi Shiran (Sounds Of The Future (Daft Punk Mashup)), which featured in the Adelaide Festival show.
Alternative Symphony: Daft Punk performed 13 Daft Punk tracks plus the very fitting encore of “One More Time”. The 9pm performance was their second performance for the night having done a Dr. Dre songs show earlier in the evening. The musicians all looked to be enjoying brining Daft Punk’s songs to life through their instruments, but the drummer in particular seemed to have true rockstar attitude and be loving his performance.
The audience was up on their feet for at least the last 25 minutes of the show and craving more. Audiences truly seemed to be loving the music and the opportunity to lose themselves to dance after 2 years of not being allowed to.
Franck Evin was the lighting designer for The Golden Cockerel, which makes its Australian debut at the Adelaide Festival tonight. The Golden Cockerel is the second opera to come out of the Adelaide Festival’s partnership with the Aix en Provence Festival.
Franck Evin has often worked with Barrie Kosky, an Australian director, who is the director of this opera. We talked to Franck about the show, his career and the work of a lighting designer.
His work with Barrie Kosky
Franck Evin, you worked on the show The Golden Cockerel with the Australian director Barrie Kosky. I see that you also worked together a lot last year.
This year [last year] we had a premiere in Lyon at the Kommerishe Opera. In December, we did a Don Giovanni in Vienna. Also in December StatsOpera. And then we were in Munich in January with Le Petit Renard Rusé. And it continues.
How long have you known him?
A very long time. I’ve known Barry since 1998 – something like that. The first show we did together was Le Grand Macabre at the Komische Oper in Berlin. I think it was his first opera in Europe. I’m not sure about that but I think it was his first opera in Europe. And then we worked together. And then he became Intendant of the Komische Oper, but I went to Zurich. Not because of Barrie, but because I was tired of Berlin.
The work of a light designer
Your job title in English is a “light designer”. What’s your job title in French?
The real title in French is “éclairagiste”. The term “light designer” comes from the English. The English were the first people person to use the term “light designer”, to mean someone like a decorator, who designs the lights, who makes the lights – always in agreement, if possible, with the director and the decorator – but who is nevertheless a specialist.
In France you are a chief electrician. That is to say that you are responsible in a theatre for the structure, the management of personnel, etc. And then there are lighting technicians – that is to say, people who are more involved.
More creative, less technical perhaps?
More creative is a lighting designer. In fact, there is the more “artistic” side of lighting.
Theatres need electricians who know how to switch on the power, how to connect the projectors, but that doesn’t give you any artistic education – painting, music, etcetera. I’m very, very different. I was never an electrician. In fact, I wanted to be a pianist. I was far too late. I worked in a small theatre café where I accompanied a singer and a comedian and then there were three small projectors and I started to become interested. I liked it a lot.
And then I auditioned at a real piano school – private, of course, because it was too late to go to the conservatory – and the woman told me that “look, it’s far too late. If you work like a dog, you’ll be able to do this or that. But I wasn’t really interested. It was a kind of ideal – I left home, I went up to Paris.
And then I said to myself, “OK, let’s stop with the piano. It’s never going to happen but if you want to stay and listen to music because that’s what you’re interested, why not do lighting. I started to find a way to learn my craft. At the time, it was in the 90s, there was no lighting school. Light designers existed in England but it wasn’t at all what we were doing in France.
In France, you had to be an electrician to enter a theatre and then move up. And so I’m always sold as someone who is musically aware – I’m extremely available and I absolutely wanted to do this job and I worked like crazy and in France, when you work a lot it’s not difficult to make a career because the mentality here is quite difficult.
In those days, the theatres were run by the city – it was the electricians who changed the lights in the city on the street. The standard was not very high.
I knew there were two Bob Wilson productions in Lyon. They closed the theatre in the summer. And I had grants from the Ministry of Culture. I said I absolutely want to go and see Bob Wilson’s shows because, in terms of lighting, it’s the best.
So I went to Lyon. I received a grant for four months. I saw all of Bob Wilson’s team at the time- they were all Germans, including my wife who was an assistant set designer. And there I saw real German lighting designers, the way they worked. In Germany, there are shows on every day. They are really big structures and then I saw that in France there were problems with the fixtures – the equipment was very bad.
The Germans were geniuses in lighting at the time. A different way of working. There were a lot of things I never heard of. So I hung in there and after Lyon, I went to Nice for a while and then I went to Germany because I knew that’s where I wanted to go.
Because they were so good at lighting?
There is a lot of theatre, there is a lot of money, there are big opera houses, every city has a real theatre. It’s a different repertoire system. You can set it up and take it down in a day. It was a completely different technique. It was much easier to get my foot in the door in Germany and say I want to do things. In France, everything was blocked and being French there was a certain advantage. There were two or three lighting designers from Paris who did shows in Provence. The light designer didn’t exist.
Then in Germany I met a very famous filmmaker of the time and a very great theatre director. He spoke French very well and was very Francophile and we became great friends and he got me to work and that’s how it started.
His love of lighting
So at first you want to play the piano. Why lighting?
At the time I was young – I was 20 years old. I was asking myself a lot of questions: political, philosophical, etc. And I absolutely wanted to communicate with the people around me. I wanted to say what I thought was good, what I didn’t think was good, what I liked, what I didn’t like. I wanted to be active. And lighting, I said to myself, is great because when I make light I can illuminate the things I want to illuminate. Of course, there is always a certain ability to interpret a director’s work with light. There are things that are always important – which is always the problem: What do we want to do? How do we do it? Do we want to emphasize and point our finger at certain things? Do we want to make things more naturalistic?
I thought “at least if I tell people “this is beautiful” “this is good” I don’t feel like I’m delivering a message. I had a certain naivety – I would dream at night that I was lighting up the clouds. It wasn’t by chance. It was a bit of a coincidence to make lights – but I saw the ability to say things.
What do you like about lighting? Is it to put an emphasis on something?
To put emphasis on things. We have a lot of possibilities now – I have a very emotional relationship with light. So I like to make changes in light that are visible. For me, it’s not a neutral thing that just highlights – it’s really reinterpreting a space with a dramaturgical function. Now there are a lot of unique sets like in The Golden Cockerel for example – and that allows us to vary with the spaces. The way we light – we present things differently and it’s extremely unsatisfying because we’re never 100% successful. You’re always trying to get close to a certain perfection, or a certain idea, but it’s an extremely sensual and emotional job.
You get a kick out of making lights – you wait for the moment, there’s this effect, we’re going to change this, it’s going to pass one thing. Are we going to achieve what we set out to do? There are lots of things that happen by themselves – you grab them, you try to work with them. It’s a wonderful job!
We build the set in its place, we look for books, we have discussions, but afterwards it’s not exciting – it’s set up, it’s done. But the light plays a role every day. You feel them differently in the morning, in the evening. And then it’s a very intense relationship with the director, which is sometimes difficult. You have to be very psychological. It’s complicated. It’s big equipment, it’s extremely expensive.
The lights for The Golden Cockerel
Will the lights you used for The Golden Cockerel in Aix en Provence come to Australia or will they be rebuilt here?
There are some very important things that we absolutely must have. Then there are designers. I don’t think that Aix will bring their projectors. It’s the standard projectors except for the Wilmort which is a bit special in the theatre – it’s used a lot now in the theatre for lighting. I imagine that there will be some equipment coming in. It’s not very, very complicated as a device – but there are no more projectors that are adjusted by hand. That no longer exists. All this has been done with projectors that work with a computer – there is no lamp that is set by hand.
Technology has changed a lot. So the electricians who fix the lights in the streets of Lyon would have no idea in the theatres now?
To be with the projector on their backs, to change the colours – all that has finished. Now there are a lot of young teams and you have to do training. In my day, you’d walk into a theatre, pick up a projector and within 10 minutes you knew how it worked. Now you have to plug them in. It has become very complex.
So there are special schools for this?
Yes. Now the profession of light designer is an official profession. In all the big productions there are light designers. We are always the last wheel in the carriage – the last element – it’s always complicated – the director has to say no, I want it or else [it doesn’t happen]. A set designer is automatic. There is always a set designer and a costume designer. A lighting designer is more complicated. And then to work in the big houses, you have to have a certain reputation, otherwise the theatre says no, we already have a lighting designer.
So that’s why as soon as you enter a big opera house like in Zurich or Berlin you stay there. They want to keep you, I’m guessing.
I was freelance for 15 years. Not knowing if you’re really going to work next year… It’s difficult, of course, you’re more free, but on the other hand, to know your job well, you have to live in a theatre every day for 15 years, because you know what happens, you know what doesn’t work, you know what doesn’t work.
Because you know the space intimately?
You know the technical problems, you can experiment, you can choose for yourself. When you go to a theatre, you have to work with the material there. If there are things you want that are not there, you don’t always have them. But when you’re a head – I was a head of the Komische Oper in Berlin for 17 years – so I made the house the way I wanted. I could make my kitchen with the things that interested me. So that’s very important.
Moreover, we can see among colleagues who are freelancers that they sometimes have difficulty adapting to another theatre. Theatres in France are very, very poorly equipped. Zurich of course is the best. In Germany, there are things in theatres in smaller cities where the theatre is very backward. There are investments that have not been made yet, etc.. So it’s always a bit complicated. When you’re at home, you can’t complain. You get what you want.
His work on The Golden Cockerel
To talk a bit about the opera The Golden Cockerel, what was your experience of working on this production?
Well, there were two stages – the first stage was that we worked in Aix en Provence first. We had the pandemic, we couldn’t work but Aix en Provence absolutely wanted to see the show so we said “ok we’ll do the first part of the show in Lyon but to save time – because there wasn’t as much possibility for the production in Lyon, we’ll do some lighting in Aix en Provence first.”
So we worked for a week in Aix en Provence. We put up the set, we tried things with the lighting and then I realised that Barrie wanted things that were completely different from the way we normally worked. So we had to rearrange the plan, change things. And then after this experience in Aix, we said “in Lyon, we have to make another request for equipment”.
Then we started working in Lyon. Barrie wanted things that I didn’t understand because in fact we hadn’t really had time to – that’s the problem when you work with directors for a long time, you don’t talk beforehand. You say “like last time”. You have a style; you know there are things you have to have all the time – and Barrie was suddenly asking for things that were a bit unusual and I was having a bit of trouble understanding where he was going.
The set designer had the very good idea of telling me “you know, the whole atmosphere of the show is based on a drawing by a Russian poet.” It would have been good to tell me beforehand so that I could have seen what it was and he showed me this drawing of the Russian poet and there, I completely understood what it was.
I think it was very, very successful. Moreover, the lighting designers, or at least the lighting, are not usually reviewed in the newspapers. And there was a huge response to the show in the reviews. When I posted pictures of the show on Facebook, a lot of people reacted – colleagues, set designers, people I had hardly any contact with anymore, etc. contacted me saying “it’s incredible” “it’s beautiful” etc.
The combination of this very special set – which is in fact a very simple box – the magnificent costumes of Victoria Ehber, the dreamlike descriptions… I had already done [a version of] The Golden Cockerel in Berlin a long time ago and it was a completely different show. And here with Barrie, once I understood where we were going and from that moment on, it went very well.
This staging of The Golden Cockerel is rather surreal from what I understand.
That’s right and the chorus is hardly ever there. The pandemic problems meant that if the chorus sang they had to sing in masks and Barrie couldn’t accept that so he had solutions – the chorus had horse’s heads on them but half the chorus was in “off-stage” so everything was always dreamy. There were always imaginary and surreal things indeed. And I think it was very, very successful.
You mentioned before that often you can interpret the director’s visions in your own way. Did you have that same creative freedom for The Golden Cockerel?
No. Barrie knows much better what he wants to do than I do. There are directors to whom you say “you know this scene, for me it’s like this, it’s like that” and they say “oh yes, you think so? Oh yes.” And then there are some who don’t want to interpret things too much. They do, and then you can have much more impact by saying “for me, it’s like this and I wanted to do this or that, etc.”.
Barrie is someone who knows exactly what he wants to do – before the singers sing, he knows if they’re going to misinterpret. He’s someone who reacts at a moment’s notice. He is not someone who waits to watch the scene for ten minutes and then takes notes and at the end says “I think we should do this and that”. No, as soon as the scene starts, Barrie knows if he feels the wrong energy. It’s about what energy, what mood… How it’s going to go.
It’s Barrie who always tells me “could it be…” or “it’s way too strong“. Or there are things I don’t like so I say I can’t. The game now is that he says to me “give me this projector, that projector“. I do it. He says “I think it’s very good” but I don’t think it’s good. The next day at the same effect, I say to Barrie “can I show you something?” He says “no, I like it [as it is]! And then at some point, when he’s relaxed he says “show me” and then “Ah much better“.
It’s a bit difficult. He wants it to be over. He does too many things. He works here, there and everywhere. He wants it to go fast. And then you have an inspired person who asks for things, and you can go even further than he wanted.
His creative process
What is your process for creating lights for shows?
Generally, when I don’t know the opera I look at an old one – like the MET. Last year we did il Travatore in Zurich.I look at an old MET staging where the show is exactly as it is written in the work. So something very reactionary or very old.
And once I’ve seen that, I know more or less how the work was conceived . In a classical version, historical sets, historical costumes, etcetera. After that, I’ve seen what happens in the piece. Sometimes there are things musically that you listen to a lot, and other things that you don’t listen to as much.
Then I go and watch a rehearsal. I don’t go to rehearsals every day unless I don’t know the director. So I go to see at the beginning how he works, how he is, etc… In general, I don’t go to rehearsals anymore because it’s a waste of time. I want to see a run-through and then I see what the director does with the show. That’s the period when the show is rehearsed. For me, the most important thing is that a year before, we have a model of the set and we try to simulate the set in real life on the stage.
And for me it is very important, of course, to know what I can do in this setting. What materials do I have at my disposal? How will I put the projectors? What kind of projectors? Does the set have a ceiling? Does the set have windows? Is it open? And then I have to tell the director or the set designer right away, “You know, if you want to do this, we’re going to have to do this or that. We’ll be able to light from the front or we’ll have to build lights from the inside.” It’s important to say “I need this equipment to work with this set“.
Afterwards, for a year, nothing happens. And then I go to see the director. In general, about 2 weeks before the premiere, the set is built and we start doing the lights. Then there’s a whole period where we make lights without music. We try to understand how the set works, what we can do with it, and so on. And then there are orchestral scenes where the orchestra plays, the singers sing, there are still no costumes. There we really work on things that are more emotional – is it too loud or too soft? Should the singers be given more importance? Does it work with the music?
So it’s actually three weeks of work..
So it can be a year after you’re hired for the project and it’s really just the last few weeks before the opening night that you work on it?
That’s it. Whereas a set designer and a director, they have to work two years, three years before. Working, discussing what they want to do, sending plans, and so on. When we do it, it’s like cooking. We buy things and then we see how it goes.
When did you start working with Barrie on The Golden Cockerel?
We had that first week in Aix almost a year before going to Lyon. In 2020. And in Aix we worked – in Aix it’s particular because we light at night – we don’t have much time. We had maybe 20 hours to do the lighting but the Lyon show we had more time.
In Aix, it was presented at a festival so is it in a real theatre?
It’s an enclosed space but it’s not a real theatre. It’s not very high. And the room is open. The room is open air.
So, the possibilities are quite limited – because we don’t have any height. It’s not a real theatre. But it’s nice – you can walk around during the day because we work at night so it’s not unpleasant either.
Have you always worked in opera or have you also worked in the theatre?
No. In Düsseldorf I did theatre for 9 years. I only did theatre. I also did ballet in Berlin. And then I’ve done almost everything you can do. I did fashion shows. I’ve even lit bathtubs at trade fairs! I’ve even done the world hairdressing championship. I’ve done a bit of pop, reggae, street concerts, cabaret. I’ve done a bit of everything.
Is there a specific reason why you are attracted to opera?
Opera houses are real structures. They are real houses that work every day. I loved doing the jazz festival in Strasbourg but it’s all improvisation all the time. It’s quite tiring. Theatre and opera are very structured. There is a process, rehearsals for 6 weeks. It’s all very well organised. It’s a real fixture.
And then outside of that, I do a lot of other shows in other opera houses left and right. It’s wonderful.
Do you have a favourite space or a favourite theatre to work in?
Well, there are different things. I love working in Zurich because the team is fantastic but the theatre is a bit small. I love working in Beyrouth and we could do things. The problem is that it’s very badly run and it’s difficult to work there. The Amsterdam Opera, it’s a huge stage, it’s a nice place to work.
Every theatre has advantages and disadvantages. Let’s say, if I had to add up all the advantages to really do a good job, Zurich is really the most perfect, for sure. We have the kindness of the teams, a lot of money, a lot of material, it’s really well organised.
On the other hand, I can say that the worst theatre to work in is Copenhagen. I had another disastrous experience at the appalling Bastille Opera. Here at the Opera in Lyon, for a year and a half, the theatre was closed – we did The Golden Cockerel, with very few people in the room. The day the teams started up again, on a Friday, the first thing they did was to hold a union meeting to find out when they were going to go on strike!
That’s very French!
I left France because of that. It was impossible. The first theatres where I worked, Montpellier, Nice, at the Lyon opera, I was banned because I wanted to work, so it was very bad. And there, the atmosphere is very difficult and the theatres are badly equipped. That’s why I left. I knew I wouldn’t make it. It was impossible. But it doesn’t matter. It’s good in Switzerland.
Advice for future lighting designers
If someone wanted to enter the lighting design, what would you tell them?
I think that these are professions – it’s like when you want to be a photographer or an architect or a painter – these are professions that are completely full. I work in Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich, Zurich, Berlin and Madrid. The colleagues I see in these houses are maybe five or six from around the world.
So it’s very difficult to earn a living?
It’s very difficult because you have to have directors. You have to find a successful director. Barrie came to work in Berlin. It was a stroke of luck that he came to Berlin and we get on well. And then at the Komische Oper Berlin, at the time it was very fashionable for avant-garde opera and so I knew people at the time who became the directors of the future with whom I work a lot. You can also do a great job in Mannheim and there will never be a director who goes there.
I’ve been in the opera business in Europe for 26 years and I know two new light designers who work in Europe now in [those] 26 years.
Is it because no one is interested or because it is so difficult to get into?
I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that it’s a technical job. Of course, you have to know all the technical stuff. I’m not an electrician, but I know how a projector works, the optics. I have a lot of experience with many different materials.
But it’s not just a technical job. You also have to speak to the director, you have to be able to reassure him, you have to make proposals, you have to help him. You are under the pressure. They are not very easy people. You also have to be able to take the brunt of it. It’s annoying and then we have the problems with singers who are blinded!
You have to be a painter in fact. But you paint with the projectors. You have to be free. You have to know how to react. You have to be flexible but also fight. It’s not easy.
Last words on The Golden Cockerel
What can you tell us about the show The Golden Cockerel?
There is a very special atmosphere from the beginning to the end of the show. It’s a very, very special world that you rarely see in operas.
The set is quite incredible and the way Barrie works in this very, very extensive set is very special. The cast is extraordinary, even quite fascinating. The work itself is quite complicated. It’s a kind of historical tale, a philosophical tale. The music is magnificent. The more you watch it, the more you like the show and the more you like the music too.
Au début c’est un peu long, des monologues… C’est une ambiance très particulière. Je trouve c’est très atypique. Parfois dans des productions comme ça ou c’est atypique, ça peut être extrêmement ennuyeux ou ça peut être formidable. Et Barrie n’a pas voulu faire quelque chose de folklorique comme on fait d’habitude et c’était une très bonne idée. Il a trouvé le vrai moyen d’entrer dans cet œuvre.
You said it’s a very special atmosphere. It’s a bit like a dream?
It’s a dream, it’s very dreamlike. It’s hard to describe because it’s a special atmosphere. People interpret it in different ways.
We very much thank Franck Evin for this interview. The Golden Cockerel season at the Adelaide Festival starts tonight. It was sold out but new seats have been released. Buy them quickly so you don’t miss this opera which is perhaps even more important to see now in light of the current events in Ukraine.
KEY INFORMATION FOR THE GOLDEN COCKEREL
WHAT: The Golden Cockerel at the Adelaide Festival
WHEN: onight 4 March, Sunday 6 March, Tuesday 8 March and Wednesday 9 March
Premium $319, A Reserve $249, B Reserve $199, C Reserve $149
Premium $271, A Reserve $212, B Reserve $169, C Reserve $127
Concession (Pensioner, Health Care Card holder, MEAA member)
A Reserve $199, B Reserve $159, C Reserve $120
Under 30 years old (ID required)
B Reserve $100, C Reserve $75
Full time Student (ID required)
B Reserve $90, C Reserve $65
D Reserve (only available from 28-Sep)
Bookings attract an $8.95 transaction fee.