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Chicago’s Valhalla Media and Second City Sound Team Up for Innovative Live Stream Opera Production with Lectrosonics

“For whatever comes next, our first order will be to set up our Lectrosonics rigs!”

Photo by Justin Barbin, courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater.

Chicago, IL (June 08, 2021) — A mad scientist locks his daughter in a garden full of beautiful but deadly flowers. An earnest medical student spies her and falls in love, but her surroundings have made her poisonous to the touch. Will their romance bloom or wilt? This is the question posed by La Hija de Rappaccini, a contemporary opera based on a Nathaniel Hawthorne story composed by Daniel Catán and live-streamed by the Chicago Opera Theater this past April. Drawing on Mexican musical influences, the performance streamed from the Field Museum of Natural History in keeping with the botanical theme. Chicago Opera Theater’s audio and video production partner Valhalla Media teamed with location audio experts Second City Sound on A/V support, choosing LectrosonicsD Squared line of purely digital wireless. DBSMD transmitter-recorders fitted to the cast members were picked up by a pair of DSQD four-channel receivers. DCHT portable digital stereo transmitters joined an M2T for monitoring by the conductor and mission-critical crew via M2R receivers.

“Midway through the pre-production process, we found out that the opera would be live at the Field Museum,” says Nikolas Wenzel of Valhalla Media. “This presented all sorts of logistical challenges for coverage. My first thought was that for reinforcement of the vocalists, we were going to need something stable, reliable, and easy to use between different levels of the museum. One of the performance levels was on the floor of the great hall and another was tucked off up to the side.”

“One thing viewers of the stream didn’t see was that the Field Museum was active and open to the public during the show run,” adds Gerry Formicola of Second City Sound. “This meant that everything had to be set up each day, then struck and stored. The fact that the Lectro system was so quick and easy to get up and running made a huge difference here.”

“I was the guy who had to deal with all of that,” comments audio director Brad Galvin. “Twenty, maybe 25 minutes and we were good to go every time.”

The wideband range of the D Squared hardware was even more key to ensuring the cast’s singing was captured without a hitch. “Chicago may not be the worst place in the country in terms of RF density, but it’s certainly not the best,” explains Galvin, who first encountered Lectrosonics while working with Formicola on the Oprah Winfrey show. “So, the name of the game is bandwidth because you tend to spread channels all over the spectrum. With the DSQDs, DBSMDs, and M2 Duet [monitor system] covering the whole range 470 to 608 MHz, we could home in on clean frequencies without thinking about which gear is on block 19, which is on block 21, and so on. I wound up putting the DBSMDs, which were the body packs for the talent, lower in the spectrum and the monitors higher. Lectrosonics RF circuitry is great when it comes to packing channels close together, but with the wideband tuning range, we didn’t even need to worry about that. I did all the control from the Wireless Designer software, which I’d never used before. I was amazed at how easy it was to use.”

DBSMDs are also incredibly compact for transmitters that pack dual batteries, a trait that Nikolas Wenzel said went over well with the cast. “I’ve worked a lot of these sets as a technical guy and also as a performer,” he notes, “and there are very few instances where opera singers actually get miked up; it’s an adjustment for them. The small size helped the cast keep it out of mind, and we were able to place them underneath the shoulder, which avoided any tugging issues with the mic wires. Because this was all live, if for any reason we had to do a quick change, they were easy to access.”

While it’s nearly impossible to change a transmitter battery in the heat of live performance, the peace of mind provided by the DBSMDs’ dual batteries was a happy accident. “Those were all that were available at the time,” laughs Gerry Formicola. “We received five of the DBSMDs and they were some of the first off their assembly line. With the [single-battery] DBSMs, we would’ve expected four to six hours, but as things stood it never an issue. We simply never thought about battery life.”

Given the huge dynamic range of opera singing, all the logistical advantages the team enjoyed would have been meaningless without pristine and musical audio quality. “It was really spectacular,” recalls Wenzel. “We were blown away by the results we achieved even at the first rehearsal. The clarity and warmth Lectrosonics is known for really came through, even with lots of variances in equipment placement.”

“A couple of things about audio quality in particular,” adds Galvin. “First, I wound up setting about +10dB of gain on the transmitters, and we never clipped at all. The loudest singer in the troupe still had three or four dB of headroom. Second, the musical frequency response was very linear across the dynamic range. I never had any weird tonal changes when the talent would get very loud or very quiet in the packs. The noise floor was also very low. Sonically, Lectro is impossible to beat.”

“Knowing the reliability colleagues had experienced with their own rigs, Lectro was a no-brainer,” concludes Wenzel. “We’re now looking at upcoming projects in opera and musical theater in Chicago, and for whatever comes next, our first order will be to set up our Lectrosonics rigs!”

About Lectrosonics

Well respected within the film, broadcast, and theatre technical communities since 1971, Lectrosonics wireless microphone systems and audio processing products are used daily in mission-critical applications by audio engineers familiar with the company’s dedication to quality, customer service, and innovation. Lectrosonics received an Academy Scientific and Technical Award for its Digital Hybrid Wireless® technology and is a US manufacturer based in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Visit the company online at www.lectrosonics.com.

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