Friday, July 13, 2007

Word from out west 2

This is several weeks late, but still quite relevant. Another correspondent (different from this one) attended San Francisco Opera's June performances and, by a stroke of fortune, was able to report on an unexpected contrast.
I was surprised to find that they use amplification. I hadn't known that before I arrived, although I remember there was a big brou-ha-ha about something like this on Opera-l a few years ago. By amplified I mean that there were 3 microphones suspended over the orchestra pit at various heights (but I have no depth of field vision, so I can't really vouch for exact placement). Funny thing: the amplification was not working/used on 6/13 so I had the chance to hear both an amplified and an unamplified Don Giovanni. The air conditioning was also broken, so we in the audience got to commiserate with the performers.

The house is about 1/2 – 2/3rds the size of the Met and I had seats in various sections of the balcony (right, left, and center—rows 1- 10). The sightlines were generally pretty good, but if you're on the sides, about 1/3 of the stage is truncated. Also, that high up, part of the back stage is out of view.

As for the sound: without amplification the balcony sounded quite a bit like Dress Circle seating at the Met. There were dead spots on stage where you couldn't hear the singers, and other spots where the orchestra tended to swamp the singers even if they could be heard.

The amplification tended to alleviate this. I asked one of the ushers about this, and he said it was put in to compensate for the acoustics (I still don't credit that "all the other houses do it," as he said though—but I suspect it's a sticky subject for them). With the sound boosted, my ability to hear everyone was much better, and I think it flattered rather than actually distorted the singers; voices were all pretty much where you expected them to be and in correct proportion to each other—they got quieter the farther back on stage the singer. I suspect one can thank some good technicians for that.
(Emphases mine.) Why, I wonder, had I never before heard of this? Has it been well covered in the Bay Area local press?


  1. I had only heard of amplification at SF Opera for Dr. Atomic. Having a few friends who played the most recent productions, and having heard Der Rosenkavalier (and heard no indication of amplification in that) I'm going to ask a friend or two about this. Interesting.

  2. Yeah, I can vouch for this. I sat in on a Giovanni rehearsal in May, and we noticed the amplification system.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.