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Yamaha helps legendary opera venue to reach new high note

Feb, 2008

The issue of sound reinforcement for opera and classical music is still a rather thorny one with many aficionados of those art forms. So how do you approach providing the best quality sound reinforcement in one of the word’s most historic and architecturally delicate opera venues? You ask Yamaha to help.

The 230 year old Teatro alla Scala in Milan is a byword for operatic excellence and grandeur, selling out performances months in advance and setting the standard for the genre worldwide.

But modern productions expect modern facilities and so the building has just undergone an extensive, two year, €75m rebuild which has transformed the theatre’s backstage facilities and added a significant Yamaha upgrade to its audio system

“However, this isn’t a typical theatre where a decision is taken to upgrade and you can just hang a couple of line arrays,” says Nicola Urru, the opera house’s director of audiovisual facilities. “There are a lot of different considerations – architectural, historical, musical, political.”

Urru has a long association with Yamaha, going back to his first encounter with the PM1D on a tour of Japan. As a result, in 2003 he persuaded the venue’s management to invest in a 96-channel PM1D, which now resides in a completely rebuilt AV suite, hundreds of metres from the auditorium itself.

“The desk is dedicated to the show, but its precise role depends on the production,” says Urru. “It drives all the microphones and is used to process spot FX. But in some productions singers may only require miking up if they begin singing while they are off-stage; in other operas they may not need miking up at all. Everything has to be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

“In the past, the theatre tended to rent audio equipment as and when it was needed,” adds Nicola Zucchino, sales engineer for Yamaha Musica Italia’s Commercial Audio Division. “We are gradually changing the mentality, but the nature of the venue is such that you can’t just come in and fit a load of equipment. La Scala has its own installation team, and you need several layers of approval before anything can be done. Every new cable run has to be approved.”

As part of the most recent upgrade, the venue has seen the installation of additional sound reinforcement in the auditorium, comprising three pairs of white-painted Installation Series IF2205s, placed vertically either side of the proscenium, with IS1118 subs and amplified with XP2500 and XP7000 amps. A DME24N digital mix engine acts as a complex crossover for the system.

“Everything has to be very discreet,” says Zucchino. “We needed special permission to place the IF enclosures between the proscenium and the wooden wall which adjoins it, and La Scala insisted on the speakers being finished in white.

“The solution is small-scale but very capable. You have to remember that the dynamic range of a typical operatic or orchestral performance is between 50–100dB – much wider than a typical rock concert. The system has to accommodate that.”

A new FOH position was also created in the hall, from which a 32-channel LS9 console acts as a sub-mixer for orchestral strings and for the venue’s unique organ arrangement - an ageing electronic organ housed in one of its rehearsal rooms, deep inside the backstage area.

The signal processing power of the DME24N is used to create different EQ and effects settings for each organ sound, the processed audio being fed to a pair of IF2115-64 speakers, flown backstage in such a way that the sound reflects off the back wall and out into the auditorium – simulating the effect that a real organ would have on performers and audience alike.

“It’s the kind of solution that our relationship with La Scala allows us to develop,” adds Yamaha Musica Italia’s commercial director Marco Papini. “We see a very strong parallel between the theatre’s ongoing use of digital audio technology and our own diversification into working closely on distributed audio projects.”

As Nicola Urru says: “All of us here in the AV team are musicians. We wouldn’t be working here otherwise. So it’s great to have a relationship with a company that offers not just specific answers to our audio problems, but which understands music as well.”


Products PM1DV2 , IS1118 , XP7000

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