Gil Wechsler, who helped bring to life more than 100 productions at the Metropolitan Opera with innovative lighting designs, contributed a more modern look to the Met’s staging, translating the visions of some of opera’s most famous directors, July 9 passed away. A memory-care facility in Warrington, Pa. He was 79 years old.
Her husband, artist Douglas Sardo, said it was due to complications from dementia.
Mr. Wechsler was the first Resident Lighting Designer at the Met. They lit their inaugural show in 1977, and over the next 20 years, 112 Met productions had Dawn, Rain and City Burn, 74 of them new.
His career also took him to London, Paris and other international centers of opera and ballet. Wherever he was designing, he knew that audiences often didn’t pay much attention to his contribution to a production – which was usually the point.
“If the lighting is good, you really shouldn’t notice it very often,” he told Opera News in 1987. “However, in some operas, such as ‘Die Walkure’, the light becomes the show. It should sound natural – it shouldn’t be sordid, but it should impress you.”
Fabrizio Melano was among the many directors who praised Mr. Wechsler’s skill, although, as he said, audiences often did not.
“They take light lightly, and it’s something intangible,” Melano said in a phone interview. “You can see the sets, you can see people walking, but the lighting is an environment. But sometimes the atmosphere is the most important, because a lot depends on it. And he was the master of the atmosphere.”
One of the many examples of Mr. Wechsler’s handiwork was seen at the Met in the staging of Mr. Melano’s debut “Pales et Melisande”, on which he collaborated in 1977. The set featured several scrims and screens, projecting Trellée-like images onto them. .
“The illusion of moonlight coming through the tree is created by a patterned slide placed in front of a lamp,” explained the New York Times. 1978 article On Mr. Wechsler and how he made his impact. “From the audience, the set looks remarkably like a three-dimensional forest.”
Former Met general manager Joseph Volpe said Mr Wechsler was an important part of the effort set up by Whose. john dexter, director of productions at the Met from 1975 to 1981, for modernizing the look of the company’s productions. Previously, lighting was usually handled by the head electrician, and the approach was only to illuminate the entire stage. Mr. Wechsler brought subtlety and visual effects into play, including using light to make the soloist stand out and the chorus to fade into shadows.
“The company had a nickname for Gil: Prince of Darkness,” Mr Volpe said in a phone interview, “because Gil certainly understood that it was important that you don’t fill the whole stage with lights.”
Gilbert Dale Wechsler was born on February 5, 1942 in Brooklyn. His father, Arnold, was a stockbroker, and his mother, Miriam (Steinberg) Wechsler, volunteered at the Brooklyn Museum.
His parents often sent him to summer camp in New Jersey when he was growing up, Mr. Sardo said in a phone interview, and working on a camp production is where young Gil first developed his passion for theater. Attraction detected.
He graduated from Midwood High School in Brooklyn and studied for three years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, before realizing that a career in business or finance was not in his future. In 1964 he earned a theater degree at New York University, and in 1967 he received a fine arts degree at Yale.
Upon graduation he found work as an assistant to the principal set and lighting designer. Joe Milzinner, and received his first Broadway credit as lighting designer on the Charles Dyer play “Stairway” in 1968. He would have another Broadway credit, in 1972, in Georges Fedeau’s “Every Marriage Has One.” Prior to coming to the Met, he also designed for the Stratford Festival in Ontario, the Harkness Ballet, Chicago’s Lyric Opera, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and other major regional theaters and festivals.
At the Met, Mr. Wechsler worked with leading directors and designers such as Otto Schenk, Jean-Pierre Ponnell, David Hockney and many more. Lighting for the Met is particularly challenging because — unlike Broadway, for example — shows change on a weekly or daily basis. One of Mr. Wechsler’s achievements, Mr. Sardo said, was to develop an accurate record of lighting plans for each production, so that one show could be changed more efficiently for another.
“Before Gill got involved, there was no reference manual on how this should be done,” Mr Sardo said. “Someone remembered how the lighting was supposed to be.”
In 1979, Mr. Volpe said, Mr. Wechsler further facilitated change by installing the Met’s first computerized light board.
His work on a production had already begun the night before or even the first rehearsal; For an opera, he would study the score of an opera and develop his own ideas for what each scene should look like.
“The light signal is always a function of the music,” he told The Times, “and in that sense, the score is biblical. The music would suggest a sunrise, or perhaps a gloomy day, as well as a sense of continuity from scene to scene. Some pictures will automatically pop up in front of me as I follow the score.”
But they don’t necessarily have to be the same photos taken by the director or visual designer; Once they all put their heads together, the settlement begins. In an interview with Opera News, he recalled a particular scene in “Turandot” that he and director Franco Zeffirelli had conceived very differently.
“Puccini’s score does not indicate when the scene is held,” he explained, “except that the lanterns are placed around the stage. To me that clue meant ‘night,’ but Franco would put it another way.” sees from” – he wanted the view to be in daylight.
Mr. Wechsler also found agreements with set and costume designers and artists. For example, there was the issue of fire.
“Fire is difficult, because you obviously can’t make full stage fire, even though some operas call for them,” he told The Times. “We create fire with smoke, steam and projections. The more smoke and steam we can use, the better it will look. Unfortunately, the more we smoke, the less happy the singers are.”
The Prince of Darkness didn’t just use shadows to hide the chorus; In the case of some earlier productions of the Met, he used it to prevent wear and tear on set. Although it can be difficult.
“When the score demands a bright, sunny day, we can’t make it very Bright, or you’ll see where the paint is fraying,” he said. “And we can’t make it so dark that it doesn’t look like day anymore.”
Mr. Wexler, who lives in Upper Black Eddy, PA, oversaw his final Met production, Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino”, in 1996. He and Mr Sardo, whose relationship began in 1980, married in 2017. Also Mr. Sardo, Mr. Wechsler’s family has a brother, Norman.
Mr Wechsler’s lighting designs were still in use for several productions by the Met before the Covid-19 pandemic halted demonstrations in early 2020.