Kevin Mynatt has been Director of Production at Florida Grand Opera for the past eight years. His resume includes stints at Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Des Moines Metro Opera, Opera Omaha, Central City Opera, and Portland Opera. He earned an MFA in Lighting Design from Brandeis University. Recently, I spoke with Mynatt about the challenges of lighting Richard Strauss’s shocker Salome, playing at Florida Grand Opera through February 10, 2018. For tickets, go to www.fgo.org or call 1–800-741‑1010.
BK: When you knew you were going to light FGO’s Salome, what were the first things you thought you might want to accomplish?
KM: I thought a lot about light and dark in the piece itself, and how do we portray some of the conflict between the characters in terms of color? I don’t know that there’s a lot of lightness in any of those characters. There’s a lot of darkness, though. So we had to think about how to do that and still illuminate the characters onstage.
BK: Which character do you find the most interesting in terms of trying to bring all of that out? Herod?
KM: Yes, and once you get to that scene, he says, “Light the torches.” He wants to push all the darkness out, maybe. He runs around and says “It’s cold. Where did my ring go? Didn’t I have a drape?” I think the scenes lighting John the Baptist and Salome are the most difficult to do.
BK: In terms of sharing focus onstage?
KM: Sharing focus, and also: where do you go as far as color temperature? [Director] Bernard Uzan had some specific ideas about where he wanted to go. I hate those big lighting design cues where there is a big change, and they are not motivated by anything. But I think in this case, they really were.
But I think you’re right. Herod is the most fascinating character, because you don’t know what you are going to get from one moment to the next, and John Easterlin is so good. I have not met many Method singers. Once he is in character, it is almost impossible to talk to him, and then he’s onstage. The stage just gets big and bright, and part of it is motivated by the score itself.
BK: One tricky moment is the death of Narraboth [sung by tenor Benjamin Werley]. Tell me how you handled that.
KM: Well, I just didn’t! I just kind of ignored him on that stage left wall. And Ben Werley was playing another role. And neither Bernard nor I felt we had to highlight him. We made, in an old-school sort of way, heavy use of follow spots on this show. There is no front line in it; the front light made the deck turn ugly colors. You put blue on the front steps and it turned that green that pennies do. I spent the better part of one afternoon leaning up that light.
BK: How about keeping the focus on Herodias, played by Elizabeth Bishop?
KM: Lots of strong light from the side. Herodias was so far upstage that it was consent tweaking. I wanted her to be lit, but not the surrounding scenery. It was more technical than “art.” Keeping that follow spot on her as tight as possible, since she’s kind of at the apex of the picture.
BK: What about the decision to add four dancers in the Seven Veils? Did that make your task more or less difficult?
KM: I think lighting the dance is difficult. I didn’t want to light it in a Broadway musical/chorus girl/dance break sort of way. And keeping Salome in a tight focus, using a little bit of footlights to highlight the dancing girls and keeping the focus on Salome, in a relatively tight spot. Using a pale blue, and then red. There are three big musical changes, and for the last one, as we went for the reveal, we went for a garish green and a garish orange. I didn’t want it to be “pretty.” It’s repugnant.