The opera’s new production of Orfeo, directed by Yuval Sharon, at the Santa Fe Opera (located in the open-air Crosby Theatre) with music by Claudio Monteverdi and a world premiere orchestration by Nico Muhly, is an innovative reimagining of one of the oldest known operatic works.
The artistic choices around this production, which include using effects-processing on individual voices as well as mixing them spatially into the specially built multichannel surround system, required that the key characters wear wireless mic systems.
For this, the opera uses Lectrosonics SSM belt pack transmitters and channels of Venue2 receivers.
Although opera traditionally is done 100% acoustically, the innovative artistic directions that Sharon took for Orfeo required very close miking of the non-chorus performers so that their voices could be cleanly processed. Area mics would not sufficiently isolate the individual voices from each other and from ambient sound. Therefore, sound designer Mark Grey opted to use Lectrosonics wireless. Grey had used these wireless systems in recent years with the Santa Fe Opera in staging Doctor Atomic by John Adams, and The Lord of Cries, by John Corigliano, both modern American works. For Orfeo, the choice was obvious.
In Act II when the characters go down into Hades, Yuval wanted the sound world to radically change. I got into the Crosby Theater and started experimenting with the processing, like reverberation coming from the surround sound, and key roles sung or spoken from offstage, explains Grey.
Grey supplemented the theater’s four main PA loudspeakers with ten more to create the surround system that would give spatial effects to the otherworldly reverberant vocal fields. Grey allotted the fourteen Lectrosonics channels this way: “Thirteen channels are on characters who are onstage and sometimes offstage. The fourteenth is dedicated to a character who is only offstage. We also have wired microphones offstage. We’re using DPA 4061 mics on the SSM belt packs”.
The opera’s Audio Engineer, Abbey Nettleton, offers a unique reason to appreciate the Lectrosonics wireless systems: “There’s a lot of wind. The theater is pretty well protected because it has wind baffles on one side, but when the [back of stage] doors are open, we’re battling the sounds of outside”.
The Lectrosonics reputation for reliability and durability were vital in this show. Audio/ Visual Director Cooper Adams says:
The Lectrosonics products are like little tanks. I’ve always been extremely impressed with the quality of the products. Lectrosonics also offers silicone jackets for the transmitters, which are important because in this production at one point the characters are in a mist, essentially enveloped in rain onstage.
Adams also favors the SSM transmitters for their very small size, because “SSMs could be tucked anywhere, and they work great with a variety of microphones”. Although they’re primarily for effects, he explained, “we’re also rigging some performers in acrobatic harnesses, and we wanted to give them support”. Adams says he still greatly appreciates the Lectrosonics technology behind Wireless Designer software. “Fortunately, we don’t have a lot of RF issues out here, but the Wireless Designer software is great for scanning for potential problems”.
Mark Grey sees growth in the opera world for wireless mic technology like Santa Fe Opera’s Lectrosonics systems.
Traditional opera houses, we think of La Scala — but more and more outdoor operas are happening. In Austria, they have the Bregenz Festival, which is opera on a lake. They build sets that are some 15 stories high and they’re all outdoors. The seating capacity is around 12,000. They have a very advanced sound department. That’s where this technology is becoming very important. It’s all about the audience’s experience.