Gil Wechsler, an Illuminating Fixture at the Met Opera, Dies at 79

Gil Wechsler, who with modern lighting designs helped deliver to life greater than 100 productions at the Metropolitan Opera, translating the visions of a few of opera’s best-known administrators whereas additionally contributing to a extra fashionable search for the Met’s stagings, died on July 9 at a memory-care facility in Warrington, Pa. He was 79.

His husband, the artist Douglas Sardo, mentioned the trigger was issues of dementia.

Mr. Wechsler was the first resident lighting designer at the Met. He lit his inaugural present in 1977 and, over the subsequent 20 years, made days daybreak, rain fall and cities burn in 112 Met productions, 74 of them new.

His profession additionally took him to London, Paris and different worldwide facilities of opera and ballet. Wherever he was designing, he knew that audiences usually didn’t take a lot discover of his contributions to a manufacturing — which was normally the level.

“If lighting is good, you really shouldn’t notice it often,” he informed Opera News in 1987. “In some operas, however, such as ‘Die Walküre,’ the lighting becomes the show. It should seem natural — it shouldn’t jar, but you should be moved by it.”

Fabrizio Melano was amongst the many administrators who appreciated Mr. Wechsler’s expertise although, as he famous, audiences usually didn’t.

“They sort of take the lighting for granted, and it’s something intangible,” Mr. Melano mentioned in a cellphone interview. “You can see sets, you can see people moving, but lighting is an atmosphere. But sometimes the atmosphere is the most important thing, because so much depends upon it. And he was a master of atmosphere.”

One of many examples of Mr. Wechsler’s handiwork was seen at the Met in Mr. Melano’s staging of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande,” on which they collaborated in 1977. The set featured numerous scrims and screens, with treelike pictures projected onto them.

“The illusion of moonlight coming through the trees is created by a patterned slide placed in front of one of the lamps,” The New York Times defined in a 1978 article on Mr. Wechsler and the way he created his results. “From the audience, the set looks remarkably like a three‐dimensional forest.”

Joseph Volpe, a former basic supervisor at the Met, mentioned that Mr. Wechsler was an necessary a part of an effort instituted by John Dexter, the Met’s director of productions from 1975 to 1981, to modernize the look of the firm’s productions. Previously, lighting had normally been dealt with by the head electrician, and the method was merely to light up the complete stage. Mr. Wechsler introduced nuance and visible results into play, together with by utilizing gentle to make a soloist stand out and the refrain fade into shadow.

“The company had a nickname for Gil: Prince of Darkness,” Mr. Volpe mentioned in a cellphone interview, “because Gil of course understood that it’s important that you don’t flood the whole stage with light.”

Teresa Stratas as Mélisande and José Van Dam as Golaud in Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande,” offered in the Met’s 1977-78 season. “From the audience, the set looks remarkably like a three‐dimensional forest,” The New York Times wrote at the time in describing the impression of Mr. Wechsler’s work.Credit…Metropolitan Opera Archives

Gilbert Dale Wechsler was born on Feb. 5, 1942, in Brooklyn. His father, Arnold, was a stockbroker, and his mom, Miriam (Steinberg) Wechsler, volunteered at the Brooklyn Museum.

When he was rising up his mother and father usually despatched him to summer time camp in New Jersey, Mr. Sardo mentioned in a cellphone interview, and dealing on camp productions is the place younger Gil first found his fascination with theater.

He graduated from Midwood High School in Brooklyn and studied for 3 years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., earlier than realizing profession in enterprise or finance was not in his future. In 1964 he earned a theater diploma at New York University, and in 1967 he obtained a grasp of advantageous arts diploma at Yale.

Upon graduating he discovered work as an assistant to the outstanding set and lighting designer Jo Mielziner, and in 1968 he obtained his first Broadway credit score, as lighting designer on the Charles Dyer play “Staircase.” He would have another Broadway credit score, in 1972, for Georges Feydeau’s “There’s One in Every Marriage.” Before coming to the Met, he additionally designed for the Stratford Festival in Ontario, the Harkness Ballet, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and different main regional theaters and festivals.

At the Met, Mr. Wechsler labored with Otto Schenk, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, David Hockney and lots of different main administrators and designers. Lighting for the Met is especially difficult as a result of — not like on Broadway, as an example — the exhibits change on a weekly and even each day foundation. One of Mr. Wechsler’s accomplishments, Mr. Sardo mentioned, was to develop correct information of the lighting schemes for every manufacturing, in order that one present might be swapped for an additional extra effectively.

“Before Gil was involved, there were no reference manuals as to how that should be done,” Mr. Sardo mentioned. “Someone kinda remembered how the lighting was supposed to be.”

In 1979, Mr. Volpe mentioned, Mr. Wechsler additional smoothed the changeovers by putting in the Met’s first computerized gentle board.

His work on a manufacturing started nicely earlier than opening evening and even the first rehearsal; for an opera, he would research an opera’s rating and develop his personal concepts of how every scene ought to look.

“The lighting cues are always a function of the music,” he informed The Times, “and in that sense, the score is the bible. The music will suggest a sunrise, or a gloomy day perhaps, as well as a feeling of continuity from scene to scene. As I follow the score, certain pictures will automatically occur to me.”

But they weren’t essentially the identical footage that occurred to the director or the scenic designer; as soon as all of them put their heads collectively, the compromising would start. In the Opera News interview, he recalled a specific scene in “Turandot” that he and the director Franco Zeffirelli conceived very otherwise.

A scene from “Turandot,” carried out throughout the Met’s 1987-88 season, lit by Mr. Wechsler and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.Credit…Metropolitan Opera Archives

“Puccini’s score doesn’t indicate when the scene is held,” he defined, “except to mention that lanterns are placed around the stage. That clue meant ‘night’ to me, but Franco sees it another way” — he wished the scene staged in daylight.

Mr. Wechsler additionally discovered compromises with the set and costume designers, and with the performers. There was, as an example, the situation of fireplace.

“Fire is difficult, because you obviously can’t have a full stage fire, even though quite a few operas call for them,” he informed 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 smoke we use, the less happy the singers are.”

The Prince of Darkness didn’t use shade solely to cover the refrain; in the case of a few of the Met’s older productions, he used it to maintain the put on and tear on the units from being seen. That might be troublesome, although.

“When the score calls for a bright, sunny day, we can’t make it too bright, or you’ll see where the paint is flaking,” he mentioned. “And we can’t make it so dark that it doesn’t look like daytime anymore.”

Mr. Wechsler, who lived in Upper Black Eddy, Pa., oversaw his remaining Met manufacturing, Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino,” in 1996. He and Mr. Sardo, whose relationship started in 1980, married in 2017. In addition to Mr. Sardo, Mr. Wechsler is survived by a brother, Norman.

Mr. Wechsler’s lighting designs had been nonetheless in use by the Met for numerous productions earlier than performances had been halted by the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.