Opera North, England’s national opera company in the North, based in Leeds, has purchased a CyberHoist motion control system through Vertigo Rigging to greatly expand its flying capabilities.

Opera North’s system—comprising four CH500 500kg CyberHoist motors and an Apple laptop-based InMotion 3D programming and control system—was immediately despatched as part of the company’s 2006 touring production of the satirical Kurt Weill operetta Arms and the Cow.

The operetta is set on a sleepy Caribbean island that is drawn, through the machinations of an arms dealer, mendacious politicians, and US connivance, into an arms race with a neighboring island. A combination of humor and Caribbean-feel numbers infuse the work, completed and revised with input from Opera North's own head of music, James Holmes.

The CyberHoist system’s capabilities were thoroughly tested by the production. A pair of BGV-C1 rated CyberHoist motors flew a 150kg couch, with three of the cast sitting on it, up and down. A third motor flew a table in and out while the fourth was used to fly one of the leading characters, an arms dealer, out on a rope ladder as he made his escape from the island by helicopter.

The system was chosen by technical director Ric Green and chief stage technician Chick Macfarlane, who explains, “Although we’ve been flying people and objects using manual counterweight and pulley systems for years, to meet modern safety standards using state-of-the-art technology is far preferable and more reliable.

“That means motors with a BGV-C1 rating and at least double brakes. The CyberHoist motors are triple braked, so there’s a very high safety factor, making them ideal for our purpose. They allow us to fly people without the need for safety lines.

“Flying the couch, for example, would have entailed using a counterweight bar with a double or quadruple purchase pulley line on it and four or five stage hands physically hauling it up. Now we can achieve moves like that at the touch of a button.

“It’s a powerful, infinitely deadable system, the motors are extremely reliable, fast at up to 20m per minute and it’s very quiet—there isn’t anything quite like it.

“Operation is simplicity itself, running on a Mac laptop and using the click-and-drag InMotion 3D interface to program it. My flying guys needed limited training and were up and running in a few hours. You just set the positions and speeds you want and the computer does all the calculations.” Vertigo Rigging director Rebecca Loughran says, “The beauty of CyberHoist is that it’s perfectly scaleable up or down, so a compact system like Opera North’s can achieve a lot for them at reasonable cost.”

Opera North was described last year by the Daily Telegraph as “The most adventurous and inventive opera company in Britain.” The company has won a string of awards including the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Opera & Music Theatre 2005 and the South Bank Show Award for Opera 2005. It actively challenges preconceptions of opera, breathing new life into the classics, advocating lesser-known works, and championing musical theatre.