Backstage at San Francisco Opera > November 2011 > Turandot and Giovanni from the Video Booth
Turandot and Giovanni from the Video Booth
My job at San Francisco Opera as video director is to work with the production team, the artists and the media team to direct the capture of each opera for television and theatrical distribution. I have been directing at the opera for 5 years. Rigoletto was my first plazacast to the civic center and it was very well received. David Gockley had the idea of building an HD suite on the 5th floor of the opera house and I was fortunate to be hired as the resident video director. I have directed all of the AT&T Ballpark simulcasts and over 25 operas for OperaVision, television and theatrical distribution. Over the last five years, two other directors--Christine Strand and Bob Harnett—have also directed some of the operas.


 This year’s simulcast of Turandot was a challenge.  The chorus was huge and powerful and they were dressed in black. Depending on the lighting and staging they could look like a big black blob on camera.  We solved the problem by bringing up pools of light as not to destroy the mood. And I understand those costumes were very warm under the lights. We also used an overhead camera in the organ bay looking down at the chorus. As most of our cameras are hidden from public view, this one is on the house right looking down on the stage.
The simulcast always presents a challenge because we normally shoot for 16 x 9 and yet we broadcast to AT&T Park in 29 x 9.   We put special templates over our camera monitors so we can size the image to fit the big screen at AT&T Park. AT&T’s screen is close to cinemascope because the width of the frame. 
Here are two frames to show the difference: one is our normal 16 x 9 coverage and the second one is the 29 x 9. You can see that we have more height coverage in 16 x9 but in 29 x9 there is more width and less height.

16 x 9

29 x 9

Don Giovanni

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Don Giovanni because it was the second opera that I ever directed. The first Don Giovanni that I directed was a simulcast in 2007 which featured Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni. This was simulcast to San Francisco Civic Center Plaza, Zellerbach Auditorium, the Mondavi Center at UC Davis, the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa and the Yerba Buena Center in downtown SF. It eventually was distributed to movie theaters and was broadcast on KQED. This second time around it was great to direct and capture Don Giovanni in High Def. The cast was energetic and Maestro Luisotti was passionate and smiled throughout. One of our ten cameras is dedicated to capturing the maestro in action and he is so full of life and animation that he is a show within a show. Capturing the 2011 Giovanni had me enjoying every moment. The transitions from scene to scene are fast and really keep you on your toes. The cast was very physical and passionate in their movement and acting. Leporello had the camera operators and me on our toes. His crawled, ran, did pratfalls and sang every note with passion. Great acting and humor.
After recording Giovanni three times it was wonderful meeting Lucas Meachem who played Giovanni, Kate Lindsey who played Zerlina and Marco Vinco who played Leporello. They were all so charming and self-effacing. They told me that they hadn’t wanted to attend the cast screening because they were too self-conscious and thought if they watched themselves on video that it would influence them on stage and they would think about their acting which would affect their singing. I played back various scenes for each one and they were all enthralled. They wanted to watch more. It’s pretty interesting that most principles and younger artists will watch and study the acting from our recordings to see how they project and how they interact with their colleagues. There will always be singers who don’t want to see themselves and that’s ok too. I was sad to see Giovanni end. It was a good time! [Kate Lindsey as Zerlina and Lucas Meachem as Don Giovanni. Photo by Cory Weaver.]
Posted: 11/18/2011 11:32:20 AM by Frank Zamacona (Video Director)
Filed under: DonGiovanni, simulcast, Turandot


Backstage at San Francisco Opera is a fascinating, fast-moving, mysterious and sacred space for the Company’s singers, musicians, dancers, technicians and production crews. Musical and staging rehearsals are on-going, scenery is loaded in and taken out, lighting cues are set, costumes and wigs are moved around and everything is made ready to receive the audience. From the principal singers, chorus and orchestra musicians to the creative teams for each opera, in addition to the many talented folks who don’t take a bow on stage, this blog offers unique insight, both thought-provoking and light-hearted, into the life backstage at San Francisco Opera.


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