Italy’s national broadcaster, RAI, has opened a new all-digital recording facility inside Milan’s legendary opera house, Teatro la Scala.

RAI is recording and broadcasting key opera and orchestral performances from this new location using a Studer Vista 8 digital audio production console supplied by Analog & Digital Technology (A&DT) srl.

One of Milan’s most famous cultural landmarks, La Scala closed its doors for more than two years to restore its classic interior and completely overhaul the technical layout of the theatre. This project more than doubled the size of the stage and backstage production areas, and installed sophisticated hydraulics. During the renovation, with the artistic activity of the resident companies relocated to the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, RAI’s technical project engineers took the opportunity to construct a first-class recording studio.

RAI has been broadcasting performances live from La Scala for more than 20 years, but its production facilities have been cramped and imperfect. The new digital studio, which features a 60-fader Studer Vista 8 audio console, has been designed by consultant Lucio Visintini for the radio division of RAI. Aside from recording six opera productions and approximately 16 orchestral concerts for broadcast each year, the studio will record selected productions onto multi-track. After post-production at RAI’s facilities in Milan, these will be issued on DVD as commercial releases.

La Bohème, with art direction by Franco Zeffirelli, is the first opera production to be broadcast from the new studio. RAI’s resident engineer at La Scala, Mina De Toffol, expresses complete confidence in her new worksurface: "It is digital, but the interface looks like analog. For opera, I shall be using all 60 channels and am confident that I can find everything on the mixer." For La Bohème, De Toffol will use 16 wireless microphones for the principal singers, with 20-24 mikes for the orchestra, and additional mikes on the border of the stage or above the chorus, as well as some ambience miking.

The Vista 8 was chosen after careful consideration of the whole field of digital recording consoles. "From the beginning, one of the goals of this project was multi-channel capability, particularly as the studio is used for both recording and broadcast," says RAI technical project manager Dario Barale. "Our engineers and technicians praised the easy approach of the Vista operating system and have accepted it immediately. It is an extremely compact desk, allowing us to get 60 faders into a room that isn’t so big. And it has given us great flexibility in terms of connections; the I/O interfaces allow us to reach the further parts of the theatre."

A total of 148 mike lines come out of the theatre, plus an additional 140 lines, and these are sent to a central hub, a routing room located some distance from the studio. Some of the Studer D21m stage boxes are situated in this routing room, while other frames are housed in a small on-air studio in yet another location. Everything is connected by fiber optic to the central DSP core in the recording studio, comprising four D21m frames with analog and digital lines, and MADI connections.

"Such an arrangement is only possible with a digital mixer," explains Barale. "Its principal benefit is that it reduces the number of cables and the length of cable runs." Even so, the RAI team has run two and a half miles of fiber optic, over one mile of coax, and more than 30 miles of pairs of cables through La Scala. In the routing room, it has taken 15 patch panels to organize more than 1,000 lines. One hundred and twenty lines come into the studio control room itself. The Vista 8 has capacity for even more, with 56 mike inputs, 88 digital AES I/O, and 96 analog line inputs, plus 64 channels of MADI I/O. In due course, RAI will move to broadcasting in 5.1 surround sound as the studio has already been prepared for multi-channel formats.

The Studer Vista 8 and multi-channel monitoring system were supplied by Analog & Digital Technology srl from Monza, just outside Milan. A&DT’s managing director, Guiseppe Porro, says, "We are delighted with the success of this installation, which is extremely prestigious, not only because it is the famous Teatro alla Scala, but also because it is the first Vista 8 digital console for RAI. I anticipate many more will follow."