For many in the operatic world, using vocal microphones for live performances is at worst viewed as a no-no, and at best, a necessary evil. Citing the numerous challenges of performing in an unflattering acoustic environment, Jim Elliott, technical director for the Amarillo Opera in Amarillo, TX, has miked opera singers, but always regretfully. Still, with Amarillo’s challenging acoustic environment, Elliott felt he needed "a better solution" than their 15-year-old Telex wireless microphone systems.

"The most important thing to know about opera is that it and microphones don't mix," explains Elliott, laughing. "It's an insult to most opera singers if you put a microphone on them–it's something that's just not done very often. Our problem is that we currently perform in a venue that seats 2,400 people and doesn't have a balcony. It's a long, flat room, and there are some definite dead spots. Even the best opera singer cannot fill that hall because of the acoustics. For the last 10 years, we've 'sweetened' the sound of opera singers by miking them."

Elliott wanted a well-built and unobtrusive wireless microphone system that would also offer superior frequency agility. "We now perform in a civic center, which has a coliseum right across the hallway," explains Elliott. "With the coliseum hosting tractor pulls, hockey, and indoor football, we're always running up against strange frequencies. We needed a product that would search for frequencies and helped us re-assign quickly."

Pro AV Texas' Kyle McMenamin recommended Lectrosonics Venue system. Nominated for a 2005 TEC Award, the Venue Receiver is a modular UHF wireless unit designed to operate with Lectrosonics' Digital Hybrid Wireless™ and some analog transmitters. The Venue Receiver features a Venue Receiver Master (VRM)–comprised of an antenna multi-coupler, computer communications interface, and receiver module rack-mounting–as well as up to six plug-in receiver modules. Some operational features of the Venue Receiver include 256 synthesized UHF frequencies per receiver module, LCD interface for setup and monitoring, USB/RS-232 computer interfacing with included software.

The Amarillo Opera purchased ten channels of the Lectrosonics Venue Receiver system in two chassis: one with six modules, and one with four. Citing "invisibility" as a clear perk, Elliott completed the wireless system package with Countryman IsoMax E6 EarSet microphones and the compact Digital Hybrid Wireless LM transmitter beltpacks.

"We're also going to use the Lectrosonics system with our outreach teams," explains Elliott. "They perform in schools all over the Texas panhandle and needed a small PA system for traveling." The portable PA–also configured by Pro AV Texas–features a 12-channel Soundcraft Spirit mixing console, a dbx DSP processor, and JBL Eon loudspeakers.

The Amarillo Opera is preparing for a fall production of Hansel and Gretel, and Elliott feels confident about his microphone wireless system. "Having the small beltpacks and smaller microphones will be great for all the action involved in Hansel and Gretel," says Elliot.