What we "see" in The Elixir of Love is just as important
as what we hear. The visual layout of an opera production allows us
to visually experience the opera just as the music allows us to aurally
experience it. Through costume, set, and lighting, the illusion of another
time and place is created on the stage. The lighting specifically allows
the entire scene to be given mood and depth. This enables the designer
to use light to create feeling and movement that accompanies the sound
of the music.
The contributions of two famous African-American scientists, Lewis
Howard Latimer and Granville T. Woods have made the brilliance of electrical
lighting possible. Lewis Latimer, born the son of a former slave, quickly
started his service to the nation by joining the Navy at age sixteen
during the Civil War. His interest in drawing and mechanics got him
his first position with the patent soliciting company of Crosby and
Gould in 1865, and in a few years he was chief draftsman. In 1876, Latimer
was given the job of drawing the blueprints for Alexander Graham Bell's
recently invented telephone. He was well on his way toward a prosperous
career in mechanical engineering.
In 1879, Latimer became head of the U.S. Electric Lighting Company
in Bridgeport, Connecticut and began his real interest in future electricity.
By 1882, he received a patent for the manufacturing process of carbon
filaments in light bulbs. This giant advancement in electrical lighting
improved the duration and conductibility of the filament itself. In
1884, Latimer became the only Black member of the Edison Pioneers, the
specialized scientific team who worked for the Edison Pioneers company.
Here, he helped bring Thomas Edison's electrical lighting system to
Canada and the cities of New York, Philadelphia and London. By this
point, Latimer had also become an accomplished writer and civil rights
activist and continued his great contribution to the nation.
Granville T. Woods also started his career early by becoming a fireman-engineer
for the railroads in Missouri at age sixteen. Several jobs later, Woods
was able, through pursuit of mechanical and electrical engineering,
to open a factory in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1881. Specializing in the manufacturing
of telephone and telegraph equipment, Woods invented a more powerful
telephone and transmitter and by 1885 had sold his "telegraphony"
apparatus to American Bell. By combining the transmissions of signal
and oral messages through the line, with telegraphony, the complexity
of Morse code was greatly reduced. Woods continued his inventive streak
and in 1887 patented a communication system between moving trains and
railway stations which increased the safety and efficiency of railway
In 1890 at a theatre in New York, Woods became interested in the dimming
apparatus utilized by the electrical lighting system in the performing
arts community. His next project improved the dimming system by decreasing
its energy output and the threat of electrical fires common at the time.
Woods became a giant in the electrical and mechanical world accumulating
over one-hundred and fifty patents from the electrified "third
rail" configuration that powers the New York and Chicago subway
to an electrical incubator by his death in 1910.
Both Lewis Latimer and Granville Woods played a great part in creating
the modern electrical world as we know it today. They exemplify the
industriousness of the Industrial Revolution itself and the commitment
toward the pursuit of science. It is this pursuit which has given our
theaters light, our productions depth, and our operas their "electrical"
Used by kind permission of the Opera Company of
Philadelphia's Sounds of Learning Program.
Composer | Donizetti's
Geology | Timeline
Story | Censorship
Elixir of Love Home Page
Opera On Tour Home Page |Cleveland
Opera Home Page