A marina overlooking a lake in Austria would seem a rather strange place for live operatic performance. Yet every summer for the past several years, the scenic locale has served exactly this purpose, hosting the Morebisch Bregenzer Festspiele, a series of operas.
The festival derives its name from the Austrian town of Morebisch, a vacation village offering visitors a range of artistic experiences. An open-air concert venue, capable of hosting 4,000 in a raked seating configuration, has been established on the marina. The stage juts out into the lake, separated from the first row of seating by a 30' "moat" of water. A fiberglass shell directly beneath the stage houses the orchestra pit, which is completely surrounded by water.
The venue includes far more than just the basic production accouterments, headlined by an impressive main sound reinforcement system designed by Professor Wolfgang Fritz, senior engineer for the world-renowned Vienna States Opera. In 1998, this system was joined by a Lexicon Acoustic Reinforcement Enhancement System (LARES), implemented in partnership with LARES Associates of Columbia, MD.
Fritz has utilized a unique means for electronic amplification of opera that enables sound to literally follow the principal performers as they move about the stage. Individual vocal signals from these performers, all outfitted with Sennheiser wireless microphones, is fed first to a TOA 900 digital console at the expansive house mix position centrally located in the seating area.
These isolated signals are then distributed through a Delta Stereophony system to provide main sound reinforcement. Delta Stereophony is a patented system incorporating a very large matrix mixer, numerous independent delays, and a large summing mixer providing 40 (or more) independent output channels. (AKG, one manufacturer of this system, ceased its production some time ago.)
Audio Musikatration worked closely with Professor Fritz to develop a new matrix system that integrated Delta Stereophony. They also developed a new "console" that provides dynamic control over the perceived location of the sound source on the stage. Operators manning the console use belt-track faders mounted horizontally at the mix position, manually tracking their assigned performers by moving the faders to match their locations on the stage.
This alters a complex set of delay and level ratios in the Delta Stereophony matrix, which is delivered to 40 loudspeakers concealed in the set and stage area. The overall effect is that the aural location of each performer is matched to his or her physical location.
Meanwhile, input from the orchestra--heavily miked--is routed primarily left and right. It's a unique method of sound reinforcement and one renowned for its effectiveness in presenting a more natural, realistic operatic soundscape.
To further enhance the sonic experience, Fritz recommended the installation of a LARES system. Also a patented system, it uses Lexicon's premier digital signal processing hardware along with software developed specifically for acoustical enhancement.
Although most LARES systems are installed in enclosed structures like concert halls or opera houses, this system was first used outdoors in 1995 at the Vienna Festival. This annual event culminates with a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the Platz (City Hall Plaza) with attendance in excess of 30,000.
Upon attending a demonstration of the LARES system at the Vienna Folks Opera, Professor Fritz was convinced that it could also be used successfully for the outdoor application at Morebisch. He subsequently worked closely with Steve Barbar of LARES Associates, who was instrumental in the development of the Vienna Festival system, to implement a LARES system at Morebisch.
"What we've created here is virtual architecture," explains Barbar. "Using the LARES system, we've electronically built the missing structure around and over this outdoor venue to provide the ambiance and envelopment found in a very good opera house. Sound that was previously only anchored to the stage is now reflected throughout the audience area, immersing the listener in a soundfield that significantly improves the enjoyment of listening at every seat."
In more typical indoor LARES system applications, microphones are mounted approximately 30' above the orchestra. These pick up the diffuse blended sound, which is fed to the digital signal processor. The processed signals are then routed to loudspeakers throughout the house.
At Morebisch, flying microphones above the orchestra is logistically impossible, so another approach was taken. Submix feeds from the principals and orchestra are taken from the console and routed respectively to separate LARES processors, which then distributes signals appropriately to 48 JBL full-range loudspeakers mounted on poles surrounding the seating area.
"We've actually created two individual systems within the digital processor," Barbar notes. "One subsystem works with the voices of the principals, acoustically lifting and supporting their voices while maintaining intelligibility. The other subsystem handles the orchestra, distributing it to create the richness and envelopment of a good hall."
A number of presets were established within the LARES system, allowing the mix engineer to attain a more effective acoustic signature in relation to the particular performance. The presets are simply accessed via a Crestron touch screen controller at the house mix position.
The JBL speakers, painted white to match the mounting poles, are arranged in two rows, a higher one and a lower one, all the way around the sides and rear of the venue. The upper loudspeakers, positioned about 30' above the floor, provide coverage to primary seating areas, while the lower loudspeakers, receiving a different delay feed from the processor, cover seats in closer proximity to the poles.
"LARES processing provides a rather high degree of decorrelation, which both minimizes acoustical feedback and prevents localization to any given loudspeaker," he adds. "The overall result is a diverse, uniform soundfield for the entire listening area."
The addition of the LARES system at Morebisch was well received during its inaugural season. In fact, Professor Fritz was so pleased with the results that a portable LARES system was taken to China for the production of Turandot, featuring the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta.
Barbar notes that following the success of the outdoor applications at both the Morebisch and the Vienna Festival, a similar system on a larger scale will be installed at the Bregenz Festival in Austria this year.