On the outskirts of Cincinnati, the city of Blue Ash came to life this summer with the sounds of Carmen, Tosca, and The Barber of Seville reimagined for Cincinnati Opera’s Summer at Summit series held outdoors at Summit Park with support from L-Acoustics L-ISA immersive technology.
The development of the outdoor setting was a choice driven by the Covid pandemic and provided an “under-the-stars” experience with the grandeur of grand opera theater sound. The system, co-designed by Jonathan Burke, who directs the sound design program in the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA, incorporated 60 Kara II enclosures configured as five arrays of a dozen enclosures each, all flown from towers and the stage canopy, as the Scene system. The arrays benefited from L-Acoustics Panflex horizontal steering, which helped assure coverage over the entire seating area extending 450 feet from the stage.
Sound designer and FOH engineer Jonathan Burke at the productions’ DiGiCo SD10 mixing console, with the L-ISA Controller display at upper left
In addition, 16 KS28 subwoofers were arrayed in a center arc on the ground, while nine Kiva II enclosures were deployed as front fills along the leading edge of the stage, placed atop the subs. Finally, six Syva medium-throw colinear source loudspeakers were mounted on light poles at the rear of the seating area and, using L-ISA Room Engine functionality, created the rear-surround array. All components were provided by Firehouse Productions.
“This was a unique deployment of L-ISA,” says Marcus Ross, Director of Applications, Americas at L-Acoustics. “Due to weight restrictions on the outdoor stage, we had to disperse the Scene arrays wider than usual, instead of over the stage. It’s not how we normally configure speakers for L-ISA, but what this deployment did is show how flexible the system really is. And it was also able to overcome a number of other challenges in this situation, including the fact that the seating was so widely dispersed — the first row was 50 feet from the stage.”
Burke says he enjoyed being able to broaden the sound field through the L-ISA Processor, creating an enveloping sonic landscape yet still able to precisely place each instrument in that sound field where it actually was on stage: “The spatialization of the orchestra was spectacular—the harp, tympani, and other elements were exactly where they were supposed to be, and the detail of each instrument was as if you were standing next to them. We could also get creative: we could widen out the chorus, for instance, and move other elements a bit upstage or downstage if we wanted.”
The L-ISA Room Engine functionality also helped emulate a theatrical room environment authentically, which pleased the opera vocalists. “They said they really felt as though they were in an enclosed space, with reflections off of walls,” he concludes. “There was no vocal monitoring, no foldback—they really felt supported by the ‘room.’ On shows like this, I’ll usually have reverb on a fader I can bring up as needed, but on these shows, we needed none of that. The Room Engine created all the ambience we needed and wanted."
“Plus, the gain-before-feedback was great. We didn’t run our levels particularly loud, but the system gave us plenty of output and not a hint of feedback. Since no two objects summed together like a traditional system, we were able to get amazing detail and gain with minimal EQ because each object has its own unique relationship to the speakers and within the sound field.”