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ETC Congo in St Petersburg

In a year of unprecedented theatre renovations in Russia, one of the most ambitious has been the 5 mio Euro restoration of the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

In just four months, the theatre renovated the hall, stage, lobby, orchestra pit, plumbing, heating and electrical systems, plus the building’s roof and façade, all in time to kick off its new season. At the same time, the Mikhailovsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet overhauled its lighting system, outfitting its stage with equipment from ETC.

Reconstruction began in June 2007, with a projected opening date of 6 October. When head lighting designer Mikhail Mekler began looking for lighting manufacturers, he discovered that ETC was one of only a few that could fulfil an order so quickly and the only one that could provide all the system features and functions he was looking for.

Mekler wanted a lighting control system that offered advanced functionality and maximum power and could work with all lighting protocols. The theatre had also added many intelligent fixtures to its rig, so the Mikhailovsky needed a system that could easily manage a large number of control channels. In the end, Mekler chose an ETC Congo™ control system.

“Congo has the ability to control conventional theatrical luminaires and modern, complex concert equipment,” says Mekler. “This type of system configuration is especially important in musical theatre. That’s why Congo is also used in St Petersburg theatres such as the Mariinsky. With Congo, you can control individual channels, responsible for – for example – worklights, director’s board illumination and smoke machines, yet not affect the main lighting.”

Before the renovation, the Mikhailovsky used an Avab Pronto! control system. With the short amount of time they had to build, install and train on the new lighting system, Mekler decided that the Congo system would be the fastest for board operators to learn, as it was built upon the Pronto! legacy, and was developed by Avab and ETC. DOKA-Media, one of ETC’s dealers in Russia, provided support to help board operators master the desk in time for the theatre’s opening. They were able to transfer lighting designs to the Congo, adding in the capabilities of the new intelligent fixtures in no time.

Congo’s intuitive user interface was another reason the Mikhailovsky selected it to be their control desk. The theatre hosts opera and ballet troupes from around the world. Visiting lighting designers have appreciated the user-friendly format of the board, especially given the quick setup and takedown of touring shows. In the months since the Mikhailovsky’s grand reopening, all lighting design for the current repertoire has been done solely on the Congo – more than 25 ballets and operas.

The Mikhailovsky Theatre also uses ETC Sensor+ dimming, making it the first St Petersburg venue to install the system. Mekler explains: “The Sensor+ system is comfortable and capable. You can add modules without any special tools, and since it’s so compact, it takes up very little room. Because of that, we were able to better arrange our dimmer racks, freeing up extra space for the possible addition of new racks in the future. The main reason we chose Sensor+, however, was its big functionality.” Prior to the reconstruction, the theatre used a thyristor-based unit, but the lighting team was confident that the dimming and control systems would work together best if they were made by the same manufacturer.

The Mikhailovsky rig also employs more than 40 ETC Source Four® 26° luminaires. “The Source Fours’ bright, clear and white beams make it possible to project gobos of any complexity with great quality,” says Mekler. “More than two million of them are working in theatres around the world; that speaks for itself. So far, I don’t think there’s a rival to the Source Four.”

The new lighting system is ready to handle a diverse roster of productions. The Mikhailovsky is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, with an impressive schedule, including Cinderella, Le Sylphide, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, The Queen of Spades, Faust, La Traviata, Eugene Onegin and Die Fledermaus.