"Light years. Guido Baroni and his daughter
Lucilla continue a legacy of illumination",
Lighting Dimensions USA 1998
One of the founding fathers of present-day
theatrical lighting design in Italy is Guido
Baroni, whose lineage in lighting stretches
back four generations. His daughter Lucilla
carries on the tradition, and specializes in
lighting contemporary dance. From their hometown
of Florence, Guido and Lucilla reminisced about
lighting the way for italian LDs.
"My great-grandfather Niccolò started
lighting stages at the turn of the century in
Florentine opera house, and my grandfather Mario
worked from the 1920s to the 60s experimenting
with custom and industrial lighting," Lucilla
Baroni explains. "My grandfather also supplied
and managed the lighting systems of the Verdi
Theatre, from 1942 to 46, and the Pergola, from
1947 to 60."
The lighting rental and production firm Niccolò
founded was passed on to Mario. With Guido and
his brother Sergio, the firm was relaunched
Guido Baroni picks up the story in the 1940s.
"When touring companies came to the theatres,
I helped out as an electrician, and for shows,
particularly operas, produced in-house, also
designed the lighting," he relates. "In
the early post-war years, I worked full-time
at the Pergola with my father. It was very unusual
in that period for touring companies to have
all the hardware necessary for a show, never
mind their own electrician. I first met Giorgio
Strehler, the young, self-taught director of
Caligula, in 1946; for that production he also
designed the costumes and set and played a part.
I worked with him shortly after on Shakespeare's
Accepting Strehler's long-standing invitation
to work with him at the Piccolo Teatro della
Città di Milano, Baroni moved up north
for the 1962-63 season, which included Brecht's
Life of Galileo.
"I saw his style and precision first-hand,
his familiarity with the means at his disposal
and his great sensitivity for lighting. At one
point, he drew my attention to an almost imperceptible
yellowish tinge in what should have been white
lighting, caused by reflections from the narrow
wooden frames of blackboards brought on to the
set. He also asked me to recreate what he called
sunlight's 'slight vibration, due to the air,
dust particles, and so on."
This environment proved a hotbed for Baroni's
creative flair: in a scene requiring an abstract,
he used 500W white and blue Agfa photofloods,
adding fluorescent tubes for a cold feeling.
But the white-painted insides of the scoops
used to light the wings and backdrop gave the
wrong tone, so he had them lined with silver
paper, making the light greyer. "At half-past
five in the morning, after dress rehearsal,
Strehler continued suggesting to me to changes
in cues, and to the actors better ways of saying
their lines," the LD recalls.
Besides Strehler, Guido Baroni has worked with
more than 100 directors of the caliber of Ken
Russell, Jonathan Miller, Jean-Louis Barrault,
Erwin Piscator, and Leon Pabst, not to mention
world-famous Italians including Visconti, Zeffirelli,
Olmi, and De Filippo.
In 1964 Baroni returned to Florence, where he
was LD for the famous Maggio Musicale festival
until 1985. But his experience extended far
beyond the confines of the Teatro Comunale.
"As we had the first theatrical lighting
firm in Florence, we were called on to illuminate
all kinds of events- ballet, shows for children,
concerts, operetta, and cabaret - but our speciality
was definitely opera."
The Baroni family lit all kinds of shows (conventions,
art exhibitions, expos, and fashion events)
in all kind of places, such as discos, abandoned
sheds, piazzas, and parks.
Florence's first important shows were held in
Palazzo Pitti's famous White Room in the 1950s
as an elegant alternative to Paris; with his
printed fabrics, Emilio Pucci was the top as
far as stylistic innovation was concerned. During
the period of the shows, there were dinners
and dances in Florence's most exclusive venues,
for which Guido Baroni was also in charge of
the lighting. In the 1970s, parades were organized
like shows, and Massimo Massimini (one of the
period's top directors) put stylists such as
Armani and Genny in the spotlight. "We
were always on the lookout for new ideas as
far as set design and lighting were concerned,"
says Baroni, "and this sector hadn't yet
been submerged by the avalanche of light required
It was during this period that Lucilla became
enmeshed in lighting. "I inherited his
passion for theatre lighting, but in high school
didn't dream of following in my father's footsteps,"
she says. "I wanted to work in the theatre,
so I enrolled in Bologna University's Disciplines
of Art, Music, and Spectacle (DAMS) course,
and built up experience in all sector of show
business, like acting, make-up, directing, and
video work. But I almost always ended up working
on the lights in every production, and finally
got my degree with a thesis on the theatre lighting
from the end of the century up to that time,
based on research into my family's work."
Lucilla had already assisted her father on the
occasional production by the time she finished
high school, and served her apprenticeship with
the firm when studies permitted. After university,
she joined the company, and her first design,
La scuola delle fanciulle (completed when she
was 20) received good notices.
Besides lecturing at Florence's Fine Arts Academy
1971-78, Guido has held courses in Genova, Rimini,
and Siena, and taught many members of the new
generations of technicians and LDs. He was also
guest speaker on lighting in Paris for the video
Jours et nuits du théatre in 1991. "The
difference between what I taught aspiring directors
and set designers and the topics of the courses
for theatre electricians is that the former
were more interested in the aesthetic aspect
of the work and the latter in the technical
side. But two indispensable elements, neither
of which can be taught, are fantasy and intuition."
In the 1980s, Lucilla and her cousin Marco joined
B.B.B. They changed its name to B&B, but
Marco recently left the trade and the firm now
bears Lucilla's name. Her father helps with
management and design work, and they have an
installation and production crew. In the 1990s,
B&B lit a series of shows celebrating Italian
fashion, such as "The white Rooom: The
Birth of Italian Fashion", held in Florence
in 1922 and at the Louvre a year later.
Regarding her career, Lucilla says, "My
work as an LD and lighting director with the
Balletto di Toscana [one of Italy's best-know
contemporary dance companies, founded in 1985]
has taken me to France, Russia, and the International
Dance Festival in the Canary Islands."
She has worked extensively with the Florence
Dance Theatre and was entrusted with lighting
Italy's contemporary dance and ballet shows
at Iraq's Babylon International Festival in
Lucilla has also designed lighting for musicals
produced at Marches-based Compagnia della Rancia,
including Little Shop of Horrors, A Chorus Line,
and Il Giorno della Tartaruga (a tribute to
Italian musical writers Garinei and Giovannini),
all of which toured Italy.
"Although I prefer to go out with shows
I've designed and personally take the responsibility
of any changes to be made to adapt the rig and
design to suit theatres' structures, budgets
don't always stretch to that," she says.
Since 1992, Lucilla has concentrated on contemporary
dance, finding the latter more satisfying from
a lighting stand-point and working with many
of Italy's up-and-coming choreographers, including
Elisabetta Vittoni and Versilia Danza.
Two unusual projects were Chevalier de Pas,
in which Angela Torriani's contemporary dance
was combined with selections by Flavia Sparapani
[one of Italy's leading Renaissance dance experts],
and a 1996 theatrical adaptation of the Canticle
of Saint Francis, staged in front of some of
Italy's most beautiful churches.
The Baroni firm as also designed lighting for
expos and promotional events by Fiat, Ungaro,
Valentino, and Cerruti. Lucilla says "as
far as expos are concerned, my 'secret' is lighting
them as if they were stage sets. With theatre
work I prefer to use traditional instruments,
as I look for a certain quality in my lighting
that neither scanners or color changers can
give me _ but I'd be lost without a computer
nowadays, particularly for dance productions.
"I think my designs stand out for my choice
of colors: Color is definitely fundamental,
and I feel designing is like painting,"
Lucilla continues. "I've got my favorite
instruments, and use them in association with
the intrinsic meaning of the show or event in
question, but it's indispensable to immerse
yourself in the show and contribute to the overall
rhythm with the lights. The most unusual light
source I've used to date, initially called Uvistra,
is slightly different today and is called Ultramed.
It creates a diffused light which slowly increases,
passing through various ultraviolet tones and
generating and alienating, metaphysical atmosphere
_ we used this in the Florence Dance Theatre
production of Lost in the Star, but the effect
this lamp gives is extremely difficult to photograph.
Although I'm sure TV could be interesting, I
prefer theatre work, as I love dark atmosphere
and selected areas in lighting, two thinks you
can't reconcile with TV shooting."
Guido and Lucilla are committee members of the
Italian Lighting Designers Association (ALI),
but both are rather pessimistic about the body's
future. An overall lack of participation by
members in its various activities, due to work
schedules and frequent travel, as hamstrung
the association. "ALI has also run into
numerous bureaucratic and administrative obstacles,
as the institutions aren't the least interested
in giving official recognition to the profession
of lighting designers," says Guido Baroni.
Lucilla adds, "My work as general secretary
of ALI includes administrative, writing, and
PR work such as organizing round-tables held
at the SIB show. At these, directors, set designers,
and critics have discussed the artistic role
of lighting designers always relegated to too-brief
mentions in Italian show reviews."
Called in as technical consultant for the restoration
of several theatres in Tuscany and Umbria in
the 1980s, Guido Baroni was also appointed by
Florence's mayor to design lighting for the
city's principal monuments on the occasion of
the Italia 90 celebrations. Though recently
retired from full-time work, he has kept busy
by helping Lucilla and researching new technical
solutions for problems posed by directors, a
constant stimulus for creating new ideas. He
also builds light "sculptures", usually
made with recycled materials and painted lenses,
glass, and Plexiglas, lit from the inside. His
career has spanned endless technical changes.
"There were still water and salt dimmers
when I started out, and we lit a stage with
just a few luminaires. In the 1950s, my decision
to put luminaires in the hall at the Pergola
was really revolutionary," he says. "Resourcefulness
and manual dexterity have always been the basis
of my work:: although apparently impeccable,
new hardware always lacks something, and despite
ongoing technical development in lighting, I've
always preferred an artisan approach. Through
the years, this has enabled me to put 'impossible'
theories and ideas in to practice; it also led
to my grandfather inventing a piano to turn
lighting on and off in sync with the music and
my father coming up with some rudimentary reflectors
made with metal buckets.
My advice to today's theatre LDs is: Learn when
and how to use the right instrument or lamp,
but don't be afraid to go against the 'rules'
and experiment with instruments and lamps for
uses they aren't ordinarily intended for. You'll
know you've achieved your goal when the whole
show's harmonious: my motto is 'When the audience
doesn't notice the lighting, you've got it right.'"
Mike Clark, an Italy-based Scots journalist
specializing in entertainment technology, can
be contacted at email@example.com.