Opera is a demanding medium. Combining large-scale orchestral sections with substantial choruses and on-stage performers, operatic production stretches the audio capabilities of many organizations. And if there is a major requirement for sound reinforcement, and hence the directors opt for wireless microphones, the challenges become even more onerous. When Kulteperalia, the Madrid-based production company, was assigned the task of bringing the opera Carmen to a major outdoor venue in that fair city, the organization opted to use a total of 60 channels of Sabine wireless microphones. As will be appreciated, opera buffs do not favor adding microphones to a performance. Yet while an all-acoustic tradition is well served within a concert hall, when the performance moves to a large outdoor venue like Las Ventas bull ring, wireless mics become essential.
Channel Allocation Concerns
Sound designer Paco Cano from Pro3 & Co, Barcelona, was tasked with finding 60 channels of wireless microphones that could offer high fidelity and, without violating any of Spain’s strict channel-allocation regulations, would function flawlessly without interference problems. “Sabine had a system that solved many of our potential problems,” Cano recalls. “We needed a wireless system with the audio quality to handle the dynamic range and presence of the operatic voice. We needed 60 of them, and they had to be approved by our regulatory agencies.”
The company could have chosen several different brands of wireless systems to provide the required number of simultaneous channels, Cano considers, “But then we would have been faced with inconsistent sound quality. That just would not have worked. Our primary concern was the sound; we chose Sabine because they sounded the best. The license-free band and multichannel capabilities made the choice even easier.”
Sabine’s SWM7000 2.4 GHz Smart Spectrum wireless systems can be supplied either as a system or as components in the form of receivers, transmitters and microphones. Three types of handhelds are available: dynamic SW70-H13 and SW70-H15 or condenser SW70-H19, as lavaliers (cardioid SWT31L-TA4, or omni SWTVT50-TA4 and SVT40L-TA4 – the latter from Voice Technologies), or head-worns (cardioid SWT73W-TA4, omni SVT70BW and SVT70LW-TA4, cardioid SVT80BW and SVT81LW-TA4 – the latter from Voice Technologies – and cardioid SWT56W-TA4). Both the lavalier and head-worn mics require SW70-T beltpack transmitters. Standard receivers comprise the one-channel SW71-R and two-channel SW72-R; networking and digital outputs are provided by SW72-NDR models.
The audio team for the Carmen production included Juan Vinader handling the main front-of-house mix, Paco Cano supervising wireless systems and Marc Llopis on monitors. Video feeds were arranged for large LED “Jumbotron”-type screens that flanked the large stage area. Performances were recorded in digital video and 5.1 surround for a planned DVD release.
A Demanding Production
Georges Bizet’s Carmen involves equal proportions of lust, deceit and tragedy. The plot revolves around a beautiful gypsy whose powers of persuasion ultimately lead to a tragic end. The opera features three chorus groups and nine principal actors. Cano chose to use a Sabine Wireless SW70-T beltpack for each member of the choruses, and two SW70-T beltpacks – main and secondary mics – for each of the principals. The final count was 42 microphone channels for chorus members and 18 channels for principals. (Six SW70-H19 handheld mics also were provided for rehearsals.) The final mic channel/submix count was 15 male chorus members submixed to two channels, 15 female chorus members submixed to two channels, 12 child chorus members submixed to two channels, plus 18 soloists balanced from equalized mic feeds mixed on individual channels.
AES3-format digital outputs from the Sabine SW72-NDR receivers connected directly to digital inputs on a Yamaha DM2000 Digital Production Console, which was used to create stereo submixes from the three choruses. Individual sends were maintained for the principals, which were routed via ADAT optical, along with the DM2000 submixes, to a Yamaha PM5 Digital Production Console that, with outputs from the main orchestral mics, produced master mixes outputs.
To reduce the length of cable runs, the wireless receivers were relocated from stage rear to the front-of-house position. A pair of high-gain, directional antennas was patched to single Sabine SWA6SS Antenna Distribution Amplifier, which was then patched to an additional five SWA6SS units. Each of these units then distributed RF output to an array of six, two-channel Sabine SW72NDR receivers. A combination of Countryman lavalier and head-worn mics were placed strategically on the heavily costumed actors.
A unique microphone SuperModeling mode for Sabine handheld models allows users to recall, at the push of a button, a library of “virtual capsules” that model the sounds of favorite mics. And with 70 available channels from which to choose, plus the added bandwidth and extended 300-foot range available at this 2.4 GHz frequency range, there is a very good chance that even the largest production can be accommodated with a single system. (Furthermore, by international agreement, the 2.4 GHz band can be used anywhere in the world.)
Sabine’s patent-pending Smart Spectrum system combines spread-spectrum filtering with a variation of FM technology, a development that is described as providing a more interference-resistant system with many more simultaneous channels. Each wireless receiver features an array of integral processors that enable the sound of each mic to be tailored without the use of outboard gear, or even a mixer. Every system offers five DSP processes: FBX Feedback Exterminator that provides maximum gain and increased clarity; SuperModeling; 10 parametric filters per channel; compressor/limiter for managing gain via Sabine’s digital compressor and Adaptive De-Esser that improves intelligibility by controlling sibilance.
The built-in feedback controller comprises a total of 10 constant Q, 1/100 to one-octave filters that automatically sense feedback, determines its pitch and then assigns a digital notch filter to the resonating frequency. Two types of user-selectable notch filters – fixed or dynamic – either remain set on initial feedback frequencies, or are automatically reassigned as feedback. A “Turbo” setup mode automatically sets the FBX fixed filters according to environmental needs.
Rechargeable NiMH batteries are used within each handheld and bodypack transmitter. A Tireless Wireless Battery Charger is said to extend battery life and system performance. Every transmitter features a charger input; a handheld microphone cradled in its Charger Clip continually charges the battery. (A full charge is claimed to be good for a minimum of eight hours for a handheld system, or 10 hours for a beltpack transmitter.) Nonrechargeable alkaline batteries will last at least 14 hours with either transmitter, the company says. Both handheld and beltpack transmitters feature LCDs that indicate battery strength and hours of use – this information is transmitted to the receiver (along with the run-time hours of the battery in use) which flashes a warning when battery charge is low.
Each multichannel wireless receiver includes front panel displays with multilevel password protection; Sabine’s Tweek ’n Peek function shows the value of every function on the LCD with the touch of any control. A total of 10 recallable preset configurations can be customized and saved as favorite setups. Internally, wireless receivers are based on 32-bit – 40-bit extended SHARC floating-point processors and 24-bit digital-to-analog converters. Transmitters feature programmable LCDs with “behind-the-door” switches to prevent unintentional adjustment; the external on/off switches also are programmable. All system parameters can be controlled from individual receivers, or via a conventional laptop or PC using Sabine’s SWM7000 Remote Software to control up to 70 channels. (The ND System configuration is required for multiple receiver control, which also includes digital audio output.). Alternatively, users can elect to use existing serial remote control systems to access each receiver in a multichannel system.
Sound reinforcement for the Madrid opera comprised a large array of Meyer Sound Laboratories M Series powered speakers for the auditorium and on-stage monitoring, using a Meyer Sound LD-3 compensating line driver and Lake Technology Mesa EQ system processing. The main left and right curvilinear arrays featured 12 MILO four-way cabinets and a MILO 120 expanded-coverage cabinet, augmented by three M3D-Sub directional subwoofers. The MILO high-power curvilinear array delivers 140 dB SPL peak output with flat phase and frequency response. Each MILO cabinet houses three dedicated HF transducers that extend its operating range to 18 kHz, increase available HF headroom and offer enhanced transient resolution, even in long-throw applications. In addition, three MSL loudspeakers were provided for outfill, plus UPJ-1P compact VariO cabinets as front down-fills and MVC-5 cabinets as up-fills. On-stage monitoring for the 65-by-45 foot performance area comprised UPA-1P compact, wide-coverage loudspeakers.
“The aim was to take to every corner of the Las Ventas bull ring amplified sound so clear that it sounds like the natural acoustics of the world’s important theatres,” reflects Kulteperalia’s Roberto Rodriguez. “Performance of MILO [systems] was excellent, and, thanks to the M3D-Sub, we were able to get great low-frequency response from the double bass with fantastic clarity and no feedback problems.”
The Carmen opera at Madrid’s bull ring ran for four days in August 2005 and two days in September, and again in November and December at the Guadalajara Auditorium. “Everything sounded great,” Vinader notes. “Having Sabine Wireless [systems] made this potentially difficult wireless application go very smoothly.”
Kulteperalia also used Sabine wireless systems during last September’s musical production of El Diluvio at Bilbao’s Euskalduna Theatre, and at Madrid’s Theatre La Latina. For El Diluvio, Kulteperalia utilized 12 SW72NDR receivers, 24 SW70T bodypacks and two SW70-H19 handheld microphones.