PROMETEO Musical Space
Designed exclusively for Luigi Nono’s opera Prometeo, this large acoustic space that can be fully dismantled, offered a chance to experiment with the profoundly intimate, even fruitful relationship that can exist between music and architecture. The traditional concept of the concert hall was revolutionised for the event, turning the space into a huge musical instrument, a resonant box housing the stage, the audience and the orchestra. The structure had to be erected first in the church of San Lorenzo, in Venice, as well as in the disused Ansaldo factory in Milan.
In 1983 Luigi Nono commissioned Renzo Piano to design a musical space for a work he was composing – an orchestral piece with soloists and choir - called Prometeo, or, as he also called it, a Tragedia dell’ascolto, or Tragedy of (or for) Listening. In response to Nono’s challenge and that of the music, Piano designed a radically revolutionary space which overturned the classic concept of a concert hall by placing the 400 members of the audience at the centre, while the 80 musicians were spread over three tiers of galleries surrounding them. The music interacted with its the space and came from different directions. This was achieved electronically but also, live, with the musicians moving around through the audience and over the various levels of the structure via a system of ramped stairs and walkways. The music was not projected over the audience like in a traditional opera house, but permeated the entire space.
The design came to life in 1984 for the first performance at the deconsecrated church of San Lorenzo, in Venice as part of the XLI Biennale/Musica, after which the structure was dismantled and reassembled a year later at the former Ansaldo factory in Milan. The idea was to create a modifiable travelling musical space. Because the relationship between the structure and the surrounding building is critical in terms of acoustics, the wooden structure had a modular design so that it could be ‘tuned’ by removing sections of the interchangeable laminated wood panels that fitted around the shape of its central plateau.
Wood was chosen for the structure because of its acoustic qualities and construction techniques similar to those used in a shipyard were adopted, including the manner in which laminated timber was used. The entire effect was that of being inside a huge Ark.
Alongside Luigi Nono and Renzo Piano, Claudio Abbado was involved with Prometeo as conductor and the lyrics were written by Massimo Cacciari. Emilio Vedova was put in charge of lighting. Initially he was to design a light show of coloured images, but he later decided that this would interfere with the music and he limited himself to creating a study of variations on light.
The construction of the ‘musical box’ was an important part of understanding the relationships and the structural and compositional similarities between architecture and music, specifically because it was a space born for and with the opera, and it was therefore an integral part of and result of the same creative process.
Client: Ente Autonomo Teatro alla Scala
Renzo Piano Building Workshop, architects
Design team: S. Ishida (associate in charge), C. Abagliano, D. Hart, A. Traldi, M. Visconti
Consultants: Favero & Milan (structure); L. Nono (music); M. Cacciari (text); C. Abbado (director)
With: R. Cecconi
Contractor: G. F. Dioguardi S.p.A