Germany’s Frankfurt Opera already had an expansive d&b audio system in the spring of 2020, but COVID-related shutdowns proved to be an opportunity for the organization to make a great sound system even better with the addition of d&b’s Soundscape technology.
It was actually Bockenheimer Depot, Frankfurt Opera’s second venue, that purchased the d&b DS100 Signal Engine in time to stage a world premiere in the 2019–20 opera season. According to sound engineer Margit Baruschka, the d&b gear was necessary to accommodate the ambitious production. “It was a spatially complex work, with moving actors and an orchestra spread across the stage.”
Unfortunately, the premiere had to be postponed to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic pause, the team decided to move the entire Soundscape system to the main Frankfurt Opera venue, where it could be used to adapt the venue for social distancing.
Frankfurt Opera head of sound Christian Wilde explained, “For the production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, we moved the orchestra behind the stage. Despite these unusual circumstances, we wanted to achieve a credible orchestral representation for the audience—and in this context Soundscape became our primary tool.”
The explicit aim was to let the orchestra sound as realistic as possible—something Baruschka values highly. But with large amounts of scenery on stage, very little direct sound could be heard from the musicians playing backstage, presenting something of a challenge for the sound engineers. “The premise is that you shouldn’t hear our work,” said Baruschka. “Ideally the audience don’t even notice the electroacoustic support at all.”
To achieve this perfect “illusion” for the audience, the venue opted to place loudspeakers in the orchestra pit. “We set up a whole battery of loudspeakers in the pit in order to let the main audio emanate from there,” said Wilde. “For opera, it is simply not acceptable for sound to come solely from above the proscenium.”
The team’s first experience with Soundscape has left them delighted and looking to a future with the new technology onboard. “It’s by no means the case that we regard Soundscape merely as a solution for special pandemic situations,” said sound engineer Lennart Scheuren. “On the contrary, we support actors with microphones all the time. In the future we will increasingly embed such signals in the sound reproduction with Soundscape and in this way achieve a more natural representation.”
Wilde also appreciates the wider benefits of Soundscape. “With conventional sound reinforcement, listeners who do not sit in the middle of the row will always perceive individual signals as coming more from the left or right, which makes it harder to be fully immersed in the music. Soundscape enables us to stabilize the sound image over the visible width of the proscenium opening, even if there are no loudspeakers in that exact location. It’s being able to achieve this consistency—of visual and acoustic perception—regardless of the individual seat that is the decisive benefit of d&b Soundscape. And why it will be part of the future at Frankfurt Opera.”
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