d&b Soundscape at the Frankfurt Opera — AV.technology
Orchestra behind stage and a pit full of speakers; how one of Europe’s greatest stages overcame Covid with Soundscape
Frankfurt Opera in Germany is one of the most renowned opera stages in Europe, having paved the way for many successful operatic careers. Recently, with an extensive d&b audio system already installed, the venue chose to enrich its audiences’ sound experience with d&b Soundscape technology.
A d&b DS100 Signal engine was duly purchased in time for the 2019/2020 season and the staging of a world premiere at the Bockenheimer Depot – Frankfurt Opera’s second venue.
“It was a spatially complex work, with moving actors and an orchestra spread across the stage” explains sound engineer, Margit Baruschka. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic the production was postponed to 2021.
The decision was then made to move the entire Soundscape system to the Frankfurt Opera. Here it could be used to adapt some of the regular program to allow for social distancing rules.
Head of Sound, Christian Wilde describes how: “For a 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 onstage, 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,” explains Wilde. “For Opera, it is simply not acceptable for sound to solely come 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,” says sound engineer, Lennart Scheuren. “On the contrary, we are supporting actors with microphones all the time. In future we will increasingly embed such signals in the sound reproduction with Soundscape and in this way achieve a more natural representation.”
For Wilde the wider benefits are also clear. “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 stabilise 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.”