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The two-minute guide to audio and lighting in opera houses

TFA lifts the curtain on the world of opera houses with a look at two very different recent schemes: an upgrade at Sydney’s legendary Opera House and the Winspear in Dallas, Texas.

TFA lifts the curtain on the world of opera houses with a look at two very different recent schemes: an upgrade at Sydney’s legendary Opera House and the Winspear in Dallas, Texas.

Working with Australian dealer Jands, ETC has helped to overhaul the lighting control at Sydney’s world famous Opera House.

Following a comprehensive assessment of the venue’s needs, Jands installed four ETC Eos and three ETC Ion desks, so there would be a desk in every control room in the building.

The Sydney Opera House accommodates some 7.4m visitors each year who take in around 1,700 performances in seven different spaces, ranging from the main concert hall, with almost 2,700 seats, to the intimate 14 metre wide Utzon room.

Tim Kennard, lighting sales manager for Jands, explains: “In addition to the control desks, we also installed remote processor units and video interfaces, as well as remote focus units. For complete control, we provided 37 touch screen displays.

“The Opera House management and staff were really pleased with the way the desks worked, with a very similar usage style to their previous equipment. Training ran over a 12-week period and involved Jands’ controls specialist Alex Mair, Nick Simmons and Graham Parker from the UK.

“The upgrade covered all controls in every venue of the Opera House, and there are further upgrades planned, including more moving lights and dimming systems.”

Head of lighting at Sydney Opera House, Toby Sewell, adds: “Switching to Eos and Ion was fairly easy for our operators, as the logic and syntax are very similar to our previous control desks. When opting for the ETC control, I consulted our clients such as the [Australian] Opera Company who are very comfortable with ETC. I found a lot of the theatre designers were much more comfortable with ETC and its philosophies. Sydney Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare had purchased ETC Ions, so it made sense for us to have ETC Eos as the control room desk.

“The ETC desks are really intuitive in how they use moving lights. We’ve had extremely positive feedback from our operators on both Eos and Ion. They seem to have integrated well into the system; we’ve had them a few months now and everybody is very comfortable with them.”@[email protected]

Dallas Winspear Opera House

More than a quarter century in the making, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas is a cultural nexus in the city’s revitalized downtown arts district. The area is home to a number of different entertainment venues, from the Dallas Symphony’s Meyerson Auditorium and the intimate Wyly Theatre to the Winspear Opera House and the open-air Annette Strauss Square, making it a busy hub of activity on any given evening. 

The 2,200-seat Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, created by architect Foster & Partners, with theatre design by Theater Projects Consultants and acoustician Sound Space Design, is home to the Dallas Opera, and an anchor in the new arts district. The Winspear’s sound system, designed by Martin Van Dijk of Toronto-based Engineering Harmonics, is centered on left/right arrays of 12 Renkus-Heinz STLA/9R RHAON empowered loudspeakers that retract into the ceiling when not in use. Low frequency reinforcement is provided by four Renkus-Heinz DR18-1 subwoofers on rolling dollies.

Renkus-Heinz PowerNet PN-Series loudspeakers provide additional coverage, with eight PN82/9 systems for over-balcony fill, and two PN151/4 systems flown from the venue’s soaring 60-ft high ceiling. A separate speech system was also installed, utilizing 10 Iconyx IC8-R and two IC16-R systems.

Just across the way from the Winspear, Annette Strauss Square is an outdoor performance venue that hosts concerts, theatrical and dance performances and festivals, with open-air seating for up to 2,400. As Jeff Stephens, technical supervisor for the Winspear and Strauss Square explains, the Square’s relatively close proximity, not only to the other venues but also to the surrounding luxury high-rise condominiums that are home to a growing number of urban professionals, created a few challenges in system design.

“Particularly with an outdoor venue in a populated area, it’s important to be good neighbors,” Stephens observes. “We worked with the city to make sure the sound could be steered and focused toward the seating, and away from the other buildings as much as possible. Having a rock concert right next to a symphony hall and an opera house could be problematic, and having it outside people’s homes would be even more so.”

The outdoor venue’s system, also designed by Martin Van Dijk, employs left and right arrays of ten STLA/9R boxes per side, along with six DR18-2 dual 18-inch subwoofers for low frequency power. A ring of SG42 two-way powered speakers acts as a delay fill. “We use the delay fill so we don’t have to drive the main PA quite as hard, which helps to keep the energy off the Meyerson,” says Stephens.

By all accounts, the PAC’s opening season has been an unmitigated success. “We worked closely with the Opera on a performance of Don Giovanni at the Winspear, which was broadcast at Annette Strauss Square as an Opera Under the Stars event,” say Stephens. “It was a huge success, and we got lots of compliments on how great and clear the sound was. It was particularly gratifying, being outdoors and right next to a highway. The system performed beyond our expectations.”