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Solutions: ensemble AV cast in new Florence Opera House install

The new Tuscan opera theatre has an impressive array of digital audio equipment and an extensive stock of LED lighting, reports Mike Clark.

Work on the construction of Florence’s new Opera Theatre began several years ago, but only in recent months did the entire staff of the famous Maggio Musical Fiorentino programme of concerts and opera and ballet (in its 79th season this year) move into its new home. Although the final stage of the lengthy equipment installation process (the stage mechanism) has still to be completed, along with part of the actual building work, the venue is already staging operas and other shows.

Described as a “traditional horseshoe-shaped Italian-style opera house design interpreted by avant-garde architecture”, the theatre’s architectural design, by Rome’s ABDR Architetti Associati, won a national award in 2014 for the best architectural work over a five-year period.

Acoustics obviously play a fundamental role in venues of this type and, as well as supplying the stage’s acoustic shell, specialist German firm Müller-BBM did the acoustic planning for all spaces (room acoustics as well as building and technical acoustics).

Acoustic project leader Jürgen Reinhold worked with acoustic engineer Simone Conta on the project. He explains: “We did all the site supervision for acoustically relevant details, laboratory measurements in our labs for the seating, curtains, etc, carried out the final measurements and worked with the musicians during the inauguration and on-going performances.”

As well as the Opera Theatre, there are numerous rehearsal rooms of various sizes. The largest, for orchestra plus choir with a volume of 3,500 cubic metres, has variable room acoustics. Six smaller ones (400–700 cubic metres) for sections of the orchestra are also variable.

“In order to ensure unrestricted simultaneous use of the venue’s concert hall and the opera hall, an acoustic joint was created between these two structures. The big rehearsal rooms are built in a ‘box-in-a-box’ format, with massive masonry walls put on resilient supporting elements, heavy floating floors and a countertop consisting of several layers of plasterboard. In this way, they are separated acoustically from each other and from the concert hall and opera hall.”

Reinhold worked on the restoration of some very important European opera houses, such as the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, acoustically reinstalled after the building was destroyed by fire. That was followed by projects such as the San Carlo in Naples, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre and the Opera Garnier, Paris.

He remarks: “For the next step – hopefully soon – together with the realisation of the auditorium, we shall finalise the huge stage rehearsal room, the big choir room (2,600 cubic metres) and about a dozen small individual rehearsal studios for one to two musicians.”

Regarding the acoustics, world-famous conductor Zubin Metha has said: “It’s almost like being embraced by the room… the sound is warm and soft, but also powerful and incisive, and diffused evenly throughout the room, highlighting ensemble parts, the various sections and the solo passages. The musicians can finally hear one another, a decisive factor for quality.”

Audio for productions

Silvio Brambilla, head of the theatre’s AV department, has worked with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino since 1981 and leads a team made up of assistant Massimo Caponi and technicians Luca Tagliagambe, Stefano Fiaschi, Luca Cibecchini and Davide Nocentini.

Brambilla says: “We have two Midas consoles at our disposal: a PRO1, used to mix all the live shows in the theatre and for recordings and live TV broadcasts, and a PRO9, installed in the recording/editing room for multi-track recording. Outboards are a Lexicon PCM92 stereo reverb, a Klark Teknik DN360 graphic EQ and a Behringer UltraCurve DSP 8024 Pro Digital 24-bit dual DSP mainframe/EQ.”

The theatre also has a trio of Yamaha digital consoles: a 02R96, a 01V and a 03D, used when shows are staged in other theatres or outdoors.

The most recent addition to the loudspeaker systems are eight Electro-Voice Xi-Series 1122 two-way full-range enclosures and four Xi-1191 subwoofers. These are supplemented by a legacy EV powerhouse comprising two AP 1200, two AP 2000 and two AP 3000 amplifiers; plus four EV Dx38 processors with RACE editor software and crossover for the subs. These are also used for shows being staged in other theatres or outdoors, or to boost the venue’s resident system, an EV EVA line array set-up with four 2082 full-range modules flown on either side of the stage and a delay system with two 2082 and an EVF-1181S sub per side. Stage monitors are four EVU-2082/95, and several other enclosures can be positioned wherever required: two EV EVF-1181S subwoofers and eight EV ZX1-90. Four EVU-2082/95 are on front fill duty.

Brambilla adds: “We record all our productions, not only for our archives, but also – on request – for state broadcaster RAI and other broadcast networks. This is done with a pair of iMacs and a MacBook Pro, with Digidesign Digi 002R and 003R interfaces, an RME Fireface UC interface and an Akai DR8 HD recorder. Software includes BIAS Peak Pro 5.2, Apple Logic Studio 8, Ableton Live 7 and QLab 2.3.8.”

The theatre’s resident video set-up features an Eiki LC-XT5 15,000 ANSI lumens LCD projector, a NEC NP3250G 5,000 ANSI lumens unit and a Philips LC4341. Playout is courtesy of Dataton Watchout multi-display software.

LED inventory

As well as these impressive audio recording and sound reinforcement systems, the theatre is one of the first venues of this type to be able to put a large in-house stock of LED lighting fixtures at productions’ disposal.

Milan’s Biobyte developed the design of the stage equipment, the multimedia systems and the stage lighting, and supplied the LED-based lighting rig.

Head electrician Gianni Pagliai explains: “At present, the theatre puts both conventional LED lighting fixtures at the disposal of the productions it hosts, but our objective for the future is to exploit fixtures using LED technology to the utmost.

“The difficulty we meet when submitting our list of LED fixtures to the various Italian and foreign lighting designers is the fact that, not being fully aware of the value of the fixtures and the results they can achieve on stage, some are reluctant to change, preferring to play safe with conventionals; but in the end, once their resistance has been overcome, and they use the LED fixtures, they are convinced that they offer an excellent alternative to the so-called old lights.”

As well as eight Clay Paky A.leda washes, the theatre took delivery of no fewer than 300 LED fixtures by Italian manufacturer and distributor Spotlight.

Since automated discharge fixtures are constantly upgraded, the theatre normally brings them in according to the LDs’ requests. For example, for the 2016 Festival’s opening opera, Iolanta, they were supplied by the lighting contractor for the venue for over 25 years, Alberto Mariani’s Luce È.

“We also have a long-standing relationship with Milan-based lighting manufacturer Spotlight, which has always guaranteed top-grade efficiency from its own products and the brands it distributes,” adds Pagliai, concluding, “Iolanta featured a rig with 70 automated fixtures and, thanks to Davide Gabbani of ETC Italy, we were able to control it with an ETC Gio console and the support of a specialist op drafted in for the occasion from London. This proves the importance of our festival – one of the oldest in Europe – and the cultural value of the Opera di Firenze Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Foundation.”

Main picture: Müller-BBM

Second picture: Michele Borzoni/TerraProject