Inaugurated in 1792, La Fenice distinguished itself as one of the major Italian and European theatres, writing opera history with the debuts of numerous masterpieces. The theatre’s renovation and rebuilding work was completed last year and this month started officially presenting opera again for the first time since the disastrous 1996 fire.
Based on a project by architect Aldo Rossi (who died in 1997), reconstruction work, carried out under a strictly philological "as it was, where it was" banner, has restored the venue to its original splendor, with its marble facade, inlayed wooden floors, frescoed ceilings and gilded mouldings decorating its five tiers of boxes. The design also expanded backstage and audience space (the new seating has enabled the main hall's capacity to be increased by 176 to 990) and the Rossi Room how doubles as a rehearsal space and a room for chamber music events, seating 300.
Backstage facilities have been completely redesigned, emergency exits improved, and new stage equipment installed, but the key innovations are to be found in the technology installed, including a cutting edge ETC lighting control system and an audio set-up based on Yamaha's PM1D digital mixing system.
Gemmo Impianto, an Italian firm with worldwide experience in the engineering construction service field, won the 7.5 million euro tender for the theatre's technical systems (including electrical, fire prevention and security systems), with the collaboration in some areas of specialist firms, such as Bologna's Gmep-Molpass, who supplied the "show" audio and intercom systems. As well as being the digital heart of the theatre's new cutting edge audio system, the PM1D system will also be used for recording events staged during coming concert and opera seasons. In fact, part of the 32 outputs currently used are for multi-track HD recording, the rest for the various rooms’ d&b Audiotechnik sound reinforcement systems.
Roberto Carletti, in charge of the project for Gmep-Molpass, explained, "The PM1D was the only system I knew able to completely satisfy the client’s brief. It greatly facilitates the theatre’s sound management - fully assignable output group and matrix bus controls make signal routing exceptionally flexible and easy and engineers can take a signal and feed it wherever it's required, as well as recording or feeding other signals elsewhere simultaneously."
A string quartet is thus able to play in the Rossi room and be heard by audiences in the Appolinee room and the main hall, but the most frequent use will probably be when the main hall can't hold all the audience, and video screens are set up in the smaller rooms, with a feed from the PM1D connected to their sound reinforcement systems.
Following audio installation guidelines laid down by Milan engineer Paolo Molina and the theatre's architectural restrictions, the PM1D system’s CS1D control surface is located in the audio control room on the top floor of the theatre, which also hosts a rack containing the system's DSP1D-EX, a 32-output AO8-DA8, two PW1D and a 12-in 4-out DIO8, as well as other two racks with outboard units and recording/playback equipment. The other DIO8 units are installed in racks in the theatre's Appolinee and Rossi rooms, with assorted playback and control equipment, while a 16-out DIO8 is mounted on-stage along with two 32-channel AI8-ML8 input boxes and a 12-channel radio mic system. Adds Carletti, "SCSI cables connect all the units with converters (inputs and outputs) to the DSP1D-EX, so very little hard-wiring is used, another point in favour of the PM1D."
Arturo Pellegrini, a freelance sound engineer with considerable PM1D experience, programmed the system, with four or five basic memories for use as starting points for programming, and 10/12 matrix settings, giving a very "open", flexible configuration, with I/O units in all three rooms and two mic input modules on stage, able to be re-organized according to needs.
The PM1D proved its worth right from opening day, as Pellegrini explained, "the Yamaha system also saved the OB audio crew a considerable amount of work during the inauguration week, as it was used to feed interviews in various parts of the theatre to the point where the OB team took the main feed out to their vans, thus avoiding lengthy cable runs throughout the theatre".
Although the project involved a great amount of work and logistic organization, Carletti was extremely satisfied. "Even if the majority of the theatre was destroyed in the fire, the remaining parts and the new areas are nevertheless subject to very strict architectural protection, therefore installing a traditional analogue set-up would have been extremely complicated, so here too the Yamaha system offered great advantages."
PM1D will now play a key role in the next historic event on La Fenice's calendar - the first opera to be staged in the reborn theatre, which, appropriately enough, will be Lorin Maazel conducting La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, first performed in the theatre in 1853.