Inaugurated in 1944 in the midst of a world war, Malmö Opera is a beautiful, classic performance centre with one of Europe’s largest stages and seating for 1,510. Traditionally an opera house, its programming has become more diverse over the years, accommodating a range of musical productions, operas, dance, and classical performances. When new management took over Malmö, they turned to d&b audiotechnik to elevate the venue to new heights.
In keeping with the theatre’s goal of being a truly unique performance centre, the new Malmö Opera management team brought with it a new vision for the Opera House, one in which it would offer technical excellence in the form of an immersive sound experience for audiences.
The team brought in project manager Paul Suchanek with support from Arva Trading – supplier of professional pro audio equipment and systems – to design and install the system. Arva provides advanced audio system design, installation, and service to the studio, broadcast, and live performance markets in Sweden.
For Arva, as well as the team at Malmö Opera, the quality and directional control offered by d&b Soundscape, combined with A-Series loudspeakers, was the ideal solution. Earlier on in 2020, the team from Malmö had the opportunity to experience a d&b Soundscape system at a Bjork Cornucopia tour performance, and realised it would fit with their renewed vision for the venue.
“The theatre had a clear objective: they wanted to make sure every single seat in the house received excellent sound,” explained Suchanek. “Seats with 80% of the sound was not acceptable; they required better than 95% coverage for every seat, including those way in the back and on all sides – this was our challenge.”
With Soundscape and the En-Scene and En-Space applications, the management team is able to control and manage every loudspeaker independently for optimum performance. The system is amplified and processed with a set of d&b D80, 30D and 10D amps, four DS10, two DS100 processors, AL60, 24C/E, 24C, 8S, E5, 4S, Y-SUB, SL-SUB and Q10 delays. The old Q system – the main PA before to upgrade – is now used as a 22 single channel fold back above the stage.
“The ability to accurately reproduce the instruments and voices exactly in the position where they sit or act, that’s the main thing of Soundscape at Malmo Opera,” said Suchanek. “I was a little concerned about how quickly the house engineers would adapt to the new system, but they jumped right in and have had no problems. They have actually seen a reduction in how much time it takes to tweak and reset for performances, their work is easier, faster, and more efficient, and they deliver a great sound.”
In addition to the demanding audience coverage requirements, Suchanek explained that there were significant challenges in adequately covering the orchestra pit and the stage itself. The orchestra pit and stage are designed in a semicircle configuration, with the pit being several meters below the stage. It is also absolutely essential that the performers and orchestra hear each other as accurately as possible.
“Our challenge was that there are loudspeakers above the stage, and with different performances, the position of the performers and even the orchestra can change,” said Suchanek. “And instead of the speakers being in a straight line, they fan out in a semicircle, making the control of the sound even more difficult. The front fills are critical, and we needed a system that would allow us to optimise sound coverage and also change configurations without physically moving the loudspeakers.”
For the Malmö Opera audience, the team achieved optimum coverage by splitting the front fills into five separate sections; with no traditional centre channel in the system.
“Before the mixture of Soundscape and A-Series, there were always concerns about the sound and specific instruments could get lost in the mix,” explained Suchanek. “Now with these systems, everybody says it’s fantastic, they can hear everything – every word that is sung or spoken, all the instruments, it’s a wonderful experience. They even see what are traditionally all-acoustic performances that now want to use the sound system; it sounds that good.”
Bengt Frienholt, head of sound at Malmö Opera, added: “It is truly incredible the difference this new system has made to the Opera House. The system lifts every musical element in a production and so far, has amazed audiences. For the first time we are hearing how musical arrangements are meant to sound.”
Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the theatre was forced to close in April 2020. After the upgrade and installation, the team actually commissioned the system over Zoom. The theatre then held a grand opening and premiere in early September 2020 for a 50-person, in-house audience and a live online audience. They have continued streaming content throughout the pandemic.
“As far as we know, this is the largest Soundscape theatre installation to date,” said Suchanek. “This is the strength of d&b: we can use almost any components, and I know that the sound quality will be outstanding, and their support and service are excellent.”