Citywide Live Opera Production Utlizes Stagetec Audio Consoles

On the Oct. 1, Swiss TV produced the opera Aida am Rhein (Aida on the Rhine) live on air. This was the third live production of a famous opera where the individual scenes only come together to form a whole on the viewers’ screens at home. A large digital audio network comprising numerous Stagetec components and integrating three digital mixing consoles were utilized for Verdi’s opera.

The numerous scenes in Basel – including various suites, terraces, and rooms at the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, the banks of the Rhine around the Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge), and on ships decks and pontoons on the Rhine – made this staging a difficult logistic and technical challenge. According to Rolf Allenbach, project manager and representative of TPC who acted as executive technical service provider, the project was extremely demanding on audio systems. While the orchestra performed in a fixed location (the hotel’s ballroom), the other participants – soloists, the main choir, and the additional choir – were spread all over the area and were sometimes several hundred meters apart.

TPC is one of the major users of Stagetec digital systems. The TV-production service provider owns a large pool of Stagetec consoles and audio routers. The Aida production required a large OB truck featuring an Aurus console and an extensive Nexus audio network to integrate all the sites in a star topology. The final mix for the live broadcast was created in the vehicle.

For the soloists’ premix, Stagetec provided another Aurus together with Christian Fuchs, their operator. Fuchs is a highly experienced MEDIAGROUP expert in the handling of live events for the music and theatre industries. On Oct 1, however, he was in charge of creating the premix in a makeshift studio at the Grand Hotel. TPC also relied on external equipment for the orchestra premix and for this purpose, they rented the Ü1 radio truck from Hessischer Rundfunk, a German state-owned broadcaster. This vehicle is also based on Stagetec technology. The truck’s 10-year-old CANTUS mixing console was integrated into the audio network for the production.

“I already know this truck from the earlier live opera productions in Zurich and Bern,” says Willi Zürrer, the audio director for the Aida production and provider of the orchestra mix. “With the Stagetec-based audio-control workspace and its acoustic features, it is perfectly suitable for the application in hand.”

Many of the cross linkages in the audio setup are created by MADI lines. This helps to avoid one mixing console’s activities affecting any of the others. In particular this means that each engineer can adjust the microphone gain of each microphone individually and independently of the other consoles being fed from the same source. Another feature of the Nexus MADI boards helps to further simplify the networking by offering individual sample rate conversion for each MADI channel. Thus there is no necessity for a common house clock for all the OB trucks.

Another MEDIAGROUP product – a new DELEC commentary system – was used for translating the presentation.

Since the production took place in publicly accessible areas of Basel, safe cabling was a critical aspect. The thin and flexible optical cables used for networking the Nexus are advantageous in this context since they are easy to hide, secure, and fasten. In addition, the production required a vast number of wireless systems. Selecting appropriate radio frequencies and aerial positions was a task for real experts.

Live events such as Aida am Rhein cannot be rehearsed repeatedly like in-house productions; therefore speed was the name of the game. However, the engineers met all the requirements thanks in large part to the well-prepared CANTUS and Aurus project configurations and the snapshot automation.

While the live transmission was in stereo, Swiss TV will produce a DVD featuring a 5.1 sound track. This DVD will be available through Swiss TV.