recording baroque opera

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by liuto, Aug 9, 2005.

  1. liuto

    liuto Guest

    I am going to take part in a production of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" in a few weeks. I am involved as theorbo player and as I am also doing recordings on a regular basis I was asked to produce a (noncommercial memorial) CD of the event. As I have to play also I want to keep the setup as simple as possible.
    My original idea was to use two main microphones for the orchestra and two or three (boundary?) microphones for the stage. How can I work around the phasing problems that might occur with moving singers?
    I don't yet know much about the halls where the performances will be, so I can give you no information now.
    I have eight SD microphones by Schoeps and Neumann (MK2S, MK4, KM84 and KM83), some Oktava MC012 (all capsules) and 10 channels of harddisc recording on a notebook.
    I really appreciate any help in this matter.

    Hermann Platzer
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    That's a tough one to answer - there are so many variables -

    Stage size
    Stage shape
    pit size
    pit shape
    size of the orchestra
    performer abilities
    and so on and so on etc, etc....

    My initial approach to a recording like this would be to start with a good but minimal orchestral mic'ing scenario. Perhaps XY with omni flanks - maybe blumlein with the same flanks (possibly without considering the group size.)

    For the stage musicians - lav micing is passe and often considered quite an evil to the operatic musician. Boundary layers on the floor would be fine as would omni mics on some type of acoustic panel to minimize close reflections.

    As for the phasing or the movement from one side to the other, you're pretty much on your own on that one. You could always run everything mono on the stage and leave the orchestra stereo which would minimize the movement, but at the same time make the singers appear as though they are all singing from the same point in space.

    My take is, record it as is. If there's timing issues or movement issues, it's just a fact of life. Many of the finest produced opera discs are just that - produced. Singers standing at finite points never "physically acting" just singing. Many other great recordings of operatic works take the complete opposite approach and simply display what the audience would hear - movement and life.

    Hope this helps...

  3. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    A couple months ago, I did a big opera recording and had a pretty simple setup. First of all- I had a stereo pair and flanks hung over the orchestra facing down at a pretty steep angle. They were also to a certain extent the mics used to pick up everything.

    I then also had three Shure MX 202 (?) microphones hanging at the edge of the procenium to capture singers.

    To avoid phase issues is pretty simple- it is conceptually not much different than recording an orchestra with spots. Keep your main pair panned Hard Left and Right and use your three spots panned L-C-R as well. Set it up so that your center mic is your main pickup and keep the level of the flanking mics down a bit. Lastly, delay those mics so that they are time aligned with the main pair. I would venture to say that with the size of most pits, you'll probably have 15 feet or more between mains and stage mics so you won't have noticable phase there. If your stage mics are placed far enough apart from each other, you shouldn't have phase issues there either (ie- don't place them 3 ft. from each other- that will be asking for problems).

  4. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    All good advice from Ben and Jeremy. I might also add:

    Don't worry about "phase." It's not what you think it'll be anyway; with so much singing and music going on, you've got enough to deal with. This will not be a "cast" recording, it's a whole different animal. (Actually, there are fewer and fewer cast recordings being made at all nowadays....but that's a whole different thread.)

    A few more ideas on recording an opera "in the wild":

    Hopefully, you're using mutlitrack DAW of some sort, and can mix it all later. (THAT is the key to dealing with some of the phase issues you are concerned with!) Plan on a minimum of 8 tracks or more...

    1. Stereo spaced pair of omnis on the orchestra. It'll essentially be a chamber orchestra with additions, so you dont' have to worry about it being too big. Hopefully it's in a pit in front; you can put booms sticking into the pit over the conductors left and right shoulders. You probably can't hang anything due to super titles and scenery. (That's life with a live orchestra and opera.) I occasionally remove the boom assemblies from their stands, and strap them (very carefully!) to the pit rails - creating small but effective boom arms that I can swing out and over my intended area.

    2. Spot orch mics as necessary - harps, specialty instruments, basses, etc. Anything that you'll need to accent or deal separately with, after the fact. The omni's wont get it all, not with the detail you'll want for a good mix later.

    3. House mics - if there's room in your track list, a pair of mics aimed the other way - at the house/audience is great for capturing applaunce, ambience and reactions to the production itself. You can bring these up and down as needed in post.

    4. Stage mics - the long accepted practice is to put a bunch of boundary mics across the stage, and that usually yields marginal, and often SUCKY results. You'll get a lot of footsteps and flooboard noises, certainly. But unless you've got people acting/singing right near them, they'll end up picking up as much of the orchestra as they do cast. I prefer LD mics (AT 4040 and 4050's, usually) on short (6") stands about a foot in from the lip of the stage, facing angled up at the action. Since they're so close to the floor, you get a single bounce as well as direct sound. Since it's opera, you'll probably be able to get a LOT of sound no matter where they're standing. (God bless 'em!)

    Aside from front and center, find out where the most action occurs, and make sure you have those areas covered as well. (Maybe a better place to put your boundary mics in a pinch.) Usually four LD's across the front (Stereo pair and two outriggers) covers most of the action. You can also hide boundary mics in scenery (only if it's not moving!!!) and other key areas, if you have the luxury. You may also be able to discretely fly a mic here or there, but with moving scenery and supertitles, that may not be possible. You've got to get creative.

    Chances are, you will not be able to catch everything as clearly and as loudly as you like, but that's live opera. (Hey, if they want it any better; arrange to record the sitzprobe or a concert version.)

    If you haven't already, give a listen to some of the Met opera broadcasts. (Chances are, it's on an NPR station near you most Saturday afternoons.) The live stuff is really quite good, but never absolutely perfect. People move around, lines get muffled, etc.

    With your DAW in post production, you can bring up mics when/where needed, and turn off others. It'll help a lot for keeping things clean, and avoiding "Phasing" etc. (Only rarely will you have all mics on, all the time.) For recitatives with harpsichord, for example, it's nice to gently pull down the orch mics and just use the mic nearest the singer and the harpsichord spot mic. (esp if your'e doing Mozart operas and the like.) You can get a lot of gain on the singer this way, and turn off the mics you don't need.

    A good opera mix is dynamic, ever changing to match the onstage activity, and never reveals itself by distracting the listener. You can take notes while you're recording it, follow the score and libretto, etc., when 're-creating" the ideal mix, too.

    Good luck and have fun with it. I never thought I'd say it, but I've really come to love and appreciate opera by this very approach. It's opened up another world of music for me - learning to effectively capture it all and make it listenable after the fact.
  5. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I usually carry around (or keep them close by) some of the 1' x 1' Auralex squares for this very reason. They're un-noticable to even the closest audience member when placed flat on the stage below the microphones and help to avoid the most obvious 1st reflections.

  6. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I'm glad to hear that about the Auralex; I've been thinking about picking up a set to have for this sort of thing, and others....ya never know when a little foam will come in handy.

    I don't get TOO much splatter or multiple reflections with the LD mics the way I describe; since they're cardioid, they tend to reject the stuff in the rear anyway, and while I can't prove this scientifically, it seems to work well with the diaphragms about 6" or so off the stage looking up on an angle at the main perf area. If there's a bounce/early reflection happening, all the better; the sound of the singers is always robust and clear doing it this way, at least in the places I've used 'em. If you have room and it's not blocking anything, you can always put them on even taller short stands, or use something even smaller like the SPs or other slimline SD mics. As long as they're black, they blend in quite nicely.

    I just think this is a more aggressive and directional way to pick up opera singers, in this case. I've tried the original "Boundary" mics, and find them too general/non specific. They're better the closer you move them in, of course, but then you've got to watch out for people stepping on them, or tripping on them. (Gee, anyone ever have a high school cast member destroy one during a dance number? Not pretty!) The crown PZM 6 is still a good choice (but costly if it gets bitched up by said dancers), and the PZM 185 is almost as good for the same job. (And it glues back together nicely if shattered under battle conditions). I just don't find the "Hemispherical' pickup pattern all that useful, unless it's tap-dancers, or the singers are looking DOWN at the floor while singing. :roll:
  7. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    If you are going to talk boundary mics- The Sanken CUB-1 is excellent. Great pickup and a good sound that isn't too peaky. Of course the Schoeps is nice too, but it is very expensive.

  8. liuto

    liuto Guest

    Thank you everybody, that's really been a lot of very helpful advice for me!
    It seems that my primary concern (phasing) may not be as critical as I supposed. I think I will stick to the two omnis main mic approach for the rather small orchestra and three cardioid microphones for the stage. This can be set up rather quickly (I still have to tune my gut strung theorbo then :roll: ) and allows for some flexibility in postproduction.
    Best regards


Share This Page