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Just completed a full opera recording (Lucia) for radio broadcast and was reminded about how difficult it is. The following "constraints" were active.

1. Last minute request, speedy planning, rush to theatre after work etc.
2. No mics to be visible anywhere, except maybe at the top of the pit.
3. Singers all over the stage, including quite a bit from the stage rear.

Multi-tracked it to 8 channels, 4 orchestral mics (pr 4003 beside Bonynge, pr MK21 at back of strings for harp and woods), 2 shotguns in side stage lighting boxes (KMR-81's) to pick up rear singing, and 2 Schoeps MK4's in narrow "ORTF", just poking up over lip of stage in the middle for the main action.

I had great difficulty in separating out the huge orchestral spill into vocal mics, also the orch mic sound was close and dry, how does one get mics far enough away from the orchestra beats me.

Anyway it turned out amazingly well in the end. Added lots of large hall/SIR to orch mics and left everything else dry for focus. I perused some of my opera DVD's, like Otello from the MET, 1996, with Domingo and Fleming, to get some guidance. At the curtain calls, one can see three shotguns, LCR just poking up out of the pit and next to each was a shorter mic with a windsock, but this DVD has great sound. Does anyone know what the MET does in detail? Long shot I know. The only thing I wasn't happy with was the instruments at the back of the orchestra sound really boxy.

What are others experiences? I think many mics must be required ie. on each section to get a decent orchestral tone in these acoustically disastrous pits.

After this project I was reminded how opera must be the ultimate recording challenge with the greatest potential for satisfaction as well, due to the theatre of it all, the many people involved and the often great scores and music, not to mention the singing. I think if I had to restrict recording to one genre, it would be opera for me. :)

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RemyRAD Fri, 11/24/2006 - 22:51

DavidSpearritt, I've done a lot of operatic recording. I have an EMMY and Grammy award nomination for my operatic work.

I think your biggest problem was not being able to fly some of your microphones? I think that's an absolute necessity in order to get the space and acoustics one needs for opera? Since you couldn't use tall microphones stands. I'll still have the orchestral MS microphones at least 3 to 4 rows above and behind the conductor, with a couple of flanking left and right microphones. I'll then hang at least six over the stage in a left center right configuration. If possible, I'll even use 3 at the edge of the stage that are either cardioid or short shotguns, sometimes, PZM's if I'm allowed to.

I have used an assortment of different microphones and so, I've tried just about everything with good results. My basic MS pair gives me a nice overall sound whereas all of the others are there merely for highlights. Opera is not "popular" music and should not be treated as such. In many ways, I find less is more.

My EMMY nomination was for the Verdi Requiem. With a full-sized symphony orchestra. And over 100 voice chorus and numerous solo singers. This was all done at NBC's large studio A in Washington DC and I used over 14 microphones, none of which could be seen on camera anywhere. Some were flown, others were covertly placed amongst some of the other quieter instruments for highlights, all mixed live to stereo with no post.

Living dangerously and loving it!
Ms. Remy Ann David

DavidSpearritt Sat, 11/25/2006 - 05:43

Remy, many thanks for your comments.

Trouble was, there was no scope for mics behind the conductor, the audience sit right up to the front of the pit, the stage procenium was very high (~15m above stage) and there was a surtitles screen at the top of the procenium which could not be corrupted with mic cables or mics. So no flying mics possible either.

The only place for mic stands was in the pit. The vocal mics were poked up through the pit roof netting with a boom on a Manfrotto.

anonymous Sat, 11/25/2006 - 12:53

RemyRAD wrote: DavidSpearritt, I've done a lot of operatic recording.

My EMMY nomination was for the Verdi Requiem. With a full-sized symphony orchestra. And over 100 voice chorus and numerous solo singers. This was all done at NBC's large studio A in Washington DC and I used over 14 microphones, none of which could be seen on camera anywhere.

Was this ever released as a DVD?

Larry Elliott

RemyRAD Sat, 11/25/2006 - 15:23

That's a tough one David! It sounds like you did whatever you could properly? The best of a bad situation indeed. That's why we all have Lexicon reverbs!

lell010, no it was not released as a DVD and wasn't intended to be. Although I do have my stereo air check on a VHS tape. It was quite some years ago, prior to 1996, more like 1991? It was all recorded and mixed on a NBC custom specified Neve console, which I now own today! I purchased that desk in 1996 and this was a few years before that. It was sweet!

I'm at the Kennedy Center concert hall Sunday for a recording and live mix for video. I'm only using 5 microphones. 2 for the orchestra and 3 for the choir, with 1 to 2 soloists that I'll get on splits. All through API 3124M's and it will be tracked on a TASCAM DA38, a Sony CD recorder and directly into my laptop for backup. Bruce Kane at Sterling Productions will be mixing it for CD release. I love recording at the Kennedy Center concert hall. One of the best IATSE crews I've ever had the pleasure to work with.

'Yall have a good time!
Ms. Remy Ann David

JoeH Sat, 11/25/2006 - 22:17

That sounds great, David! I'm often faced with similar setups as you describe, usually about once per month, and my solutions are similar to what you've described.

One of our clients performs each production in various venues for roughly two or three weeks, and depending on the cast and requirements, we record at all of them at one time or another...

1. Venue one: Large townhouse/private house theater enlarged to hold 150 people, w/50-60 piece orchestra (I'm not kidding!) and fully staged (albiet smaller) scenery and cast, in a lovely hall with arched ceilings, wooden beams, and even a large, gothic fireplace on one wall. The most recent one we did was Barber of Seville (broadcast last week). For this we used a spaced pair of DPA 4006 TLs on tall booms, looking in from the sides, and aligning over the head of the conductor for the orchestra. The wooden floors are covered with carpeting, and amazingly, the singers can still be heard over the orchestra. Occasionally we put a single stereo pair of SD cardioids right in front of the conductor as well, down low on a stand. (it's not perfect, but it fills up the hole in the middle we sometimes get with the booms)

I put a single pair of AT 4050's in ORTF config on a straight stand literally looking up from what would be the footlights, center stage (usually, the winds are seated right behind these mics!). We also have a pair of AKG 451's in the rear of the hall for ambience and audience reactions, and another pair of SD cardioids on the proscenium arch over the stage. These sometimes have to be muted or reduced according to taste, but they're great for picking up straglers and singers who have wandered upstage.

We can't get much higher because of the supertitles directly overhead, and they also video-tape (archivally) these productions as well, so we're asked to at least make an ATTEMPT at keeping things low profile. Heheh.

2. Venue Two: 1500 seat auditorium/theater with a traditional pit and full, wide stage. Here we have plenty of separation and less bleed, so we spot mic various instruments in the orchestra as needed (Harps, basses, continuo, etc.) We also use the DPAs literally over the head of the conductor (Plenty of room), looking left and right in a modified ORTF config. We use FOUR AT 4050's (or sometimes 4040's) across the front on matte black 6" shortie/table stands, (where the footlights would be), with the center pair in an ORTF position. Since it's all black, everything disappears in normal theatrical lighting. Occasionally we'll hid a mic or two onstage somewhere in the scenery as well, when needed. We also put a pair of cardioids on booms, far and wide on each side of the stage, looking back at the audience for ambience. It all goes down onto mutlitrack HD and backup CDr, and we use every opportunity possible to keep it clean and detailed. (Stage mics are OFF during the overtures, etc., pit mics come down and foot mics come up substantially during arias and recits., etc.)

We also do video for these operas staged in this hall, we're now shooting in 16x9 widesrceen, HD video (JVC format) for these events as well. We use "wild" audio in the cameras, run them continuously and simply edit everything later, dropping in the mixed audio when all's mixed and ready for use in the DVD. We have three cams; a master shot (from up in the booth), and two side cameras for closeups, and pickups. This Tuesday, we're doing the final performance (with the "A" cast) of Barber once more.

Here's an unauthorized clip (Posted by the singer's agent on YouTube) from last May (the audio is a bit odd, not sure what YouTube has done to it, but you can get the idea, and occasionally see the mics on the front lip of the stage.)

3. Venue Three: Traditional recital hall, but with no proscenium arch, per se, 650 seats, no pit, concert-staging. (no scenery, either). The singers simply come out in front of the orchestra and sing their guts out. This is sometimes the trickiest of them all. I go with a variety of SD mics on 12" short stands in the front for the soloists (Often as many as four; the mics come up to about waist height). When we can, we fly a stereo or Decca tree config over the orchestra, but that's only about 50% of the time, depending on where they put the supertitle screen. The rest of the time, I'm forced to get creative with my tall booms, looking in from the sides, and as many individual mics on desks as I can. I also put a set of OH style booms up in the first tier, looking in from far left and far right. (It's a HUGE spread, of course, but it occasionally works, if I'm careful in the mix.)

4. Venue Four: 3000 seat concert hall.....similar approach, but flown orchestra mics and spots on short stands across the front...

Here's another UNAUTHORIZED clip on youtube. (This one is ours, not posted with our permission or the schools, but what can you do? The singers' agent is doing all this posting, including some other bad stuff he did with a cam camcorder in the audience.) The pic is a little grainy, and the audio is compressed, but you get the idea as well....

Bottom line for me is that I've come to learn to trust the sheer power of the human operatic voice coupled with the gorgeous music they're singing. Time after time, we mostly just have to get out of the way and let it all happen. Fortunately for us, most of the above mentioned halls are really wonderful, and the musicians in the orchestra that they hire really know their stuff. No one is too loud or overblown, and this particular client really knows how to train their singers and present opera the way it should be done. It's a GREAT way to earn a living, really. 8-)

DavidSpearritt Sun, 11/26/2006 - 11:14

Joe, Remy, many thanks for your replies and great info. Its good to see some real opera recording experience on this board.

I am envious of some of the setups described where you can hang mics or use a Decca tree, this would be impossible for our theatre with a commercial production. On another point, how many recording tracks have you used in the most complex setups, 8, 16, 24? I am thinking of upgrading the number of tracks I can record with, have 8 at present. But the demand is low, so its not a deal breaker at the moment.

ptr Tue, 11/28/2006 - 06:21

I think we've tuched on this subject previously when I asked about PZM and their sound quality.

Any way, I been a "small" part of a team that records/broadcasts opera from the local city opera house, and after a few test set-ups with sdc's we ended up with covering the scene with 4-5 Crown PCM's, due to the simple reason that no matter what type of directional pattern SDC we tried, there was always way to much back draft from the orchestra (drenching the voices). With a PCM, especially the Crown PCC-160 that we use, sitting on the lip of the stage the spil-over is marginal from the pit. (We've also tried Boundary Layer Microphones like DPA BLM4060 and Shoeps BLM 3, but neither work as well as they are as prone to pit backdraft as any SDC) - On a few occasions we've used shootguns and head mounted minis, but that's only when the singer is way of the floor..) -- also, hanging mikes from the set (roof over the stage, I have no clue what its called in english) is usualy a no no, as the are prone sound like the emperors bathroom as they usualy have to hang something like 20 feet over the scene..

There are other problems with PCM's, like sometimes getting stood on or picking up a bit to much hard heels bouncing, but that are trade-offs that I think are easier to take than orchestra backdraft (?)

We usualy cover the pit with 4 DPA 4006 (occasional support on DB or harp) and the hall with two omnis hanging from the roof.. We record everything multitracked to Sequoia, from a Yamaha DM-2000, besides the 12-16 mikes (lines) covering the stage, pit and hall, there's usually two comentators positions and two audio players (computors today) to be tracked. We have a fabulous situation at the Gotheburg Opera as we can use the house built in (multi)lines from the all around the building, hence do not have to run our own cables...

You can listen to our work (for the comming 30 day period) by visiting the site of the Swedish Brodcasting Corp Programme 2 site : Strauss Arabella that was broadcasted live last saturday ([[url=http://[/URL]="…"]Arabella from 251106[/]="…"]Arabella from 251106[/]) -- The Webcast sound quality is perhaps not the best, but I think it gives an idea about the over all sound...

Balance engineer : Sven-Eric Edwardsson/SR


("tape op" in this situation..)

anonymous Wed, 11/29/2006 - 15:07

Minor clarification. ptr mentions Crown PZM..PCM. The model cited PCC-160 is not a PZM. Rather it's a Phase Coherent Cardoid. Somewhat different and much better than a PZM for this application.

On the Left Coast, the PCC-160 if often used for front of stage pick-ups in musicals as well as opera. To reduce direct stage noise transmission to the mics, I mount any boundry mic on a 3/16" layer of Sorbathane material. Also, from a visit to the MET during AES last year, I seem to recall some boundry mics were used for orchestra pick-up for the radio broadcasts. The mics were mounted on the "roof" of the orchestra pit.

Audio Technica also makes several boundry (PCC-type) mics including an a stereo X/Y mic (AT849). A few years ago, Ron Streicher worked with AT on an M/S version of this mic (Remy) for this application which he successfully used to record several Operas at the Aspen Music Festival. Apparently it has not made it to product yet, as there's nothing about it on the AT website.


ptr Thu, 11/30/2006 - 07:06

MasonMedia wrote: Minor clarification. ptr mentions Crown PZM..PCM. The model cited PCC-160 is not a PZM. Rather it's a Phase Coherent Cardoid. Somewhat different and much better than a PZM for this application.

Thanks for the clarification Peter, I used PCM becasue thats the way we call them in daily use. I'll try to correct myself in the future! -- Anyway, the PCC's are grate mikes for Opera!

Also, thanks for the AT tip, I'll have to look into those..


DavidSpearritt Fri, 12/01/2006 - 13:42

Peter and Ptr, thanks for this info on the PCC mics. What advantages, sonically speaking, are there in using these over some high quality cardioids (MK4) poking over the stage. I can certainly see the practical advantages and the unobtrusive nature of the installed product.

Do they sound as good as an MK4 or good shotgun?

ptr Sat, 12/02/2006 - 01:34

The main diffrence is that You can pick so much of a vioce with a free mike (haven't tested any Schoeps) without getting to much room and backdraft from the orchestra. With the PCCs the whole scene(floor) acts as a baffel guiding the sound/voices to the mike. And if you get the PCC 5-6 inches in from the scene lipp the orchestra backdraft is "minimal"..

This said, there are persons that can-not for their life like the soundfield that the PCC's produce.. The PCC's are not as pin-point as a SDC stereo Set Up (ORTF?), but rather a bit wider and more difuse.. Also, the Crowns have a bit higher self noice then your conventional SDC, but for live radio broadcast I really dont think that it matters...


Thomas W. Bethel Mon, 12/04/2006 - 05:06

I did the Cleveland Opera from their first performance to the end of
their recording operas a couple of years ago due to problems with the
union orchestra.

My setup was 6 boundary layer microphones across the front of the stage
for the singers, four microphones for the orchestra and,if permitted,
two ambiance microphones in the audience. The opera rules were simple,
no visable microphones from the audience and no interference in the
lighting or staging. On a couple of operas I used some AT shotgun
microphones for rear stage pickup but the PZM style microphones worked
well. The two in the center were setup X-Y meaning they were crossed. I
did not have access to multi track so everything was done direct to two
track (tape in the beginning DAT and CDRs at the end. ) When I first
started I had to lug everything up three balconies to the sound booth
but later I was fortunate to have the services of a classical radio
remote truck.

Opera is always fun and challenging to do.

Sounds like you setup was not ideal but you got good results due to good
audio engineering.

Hope this is not your last opera recording.