Fit for a Queen

The people of Denmark have received an amazing gift in the form of a state-of-the-art opera house. Chris Fitzsimmons went to Copenhagen for some culture and to talk to some of the people behind the project.

When looking for words to describe Copenhagen’s new opera house all the usual superlatives come to mind. Fantastic, wonderful and stunning are all suitable adjectives, but they still don’t really do justice to this incredible combination of architecture and technology.

A phrase that might at first seem slightly less appropriate is iceberg-like. However, that was the thought that popped into my head whilst being led around the maze of white corridors that make up the non-public areas of the building. Despite being an undeniably striking building, much like an iceberg there’s far more to the place first meets the eye, both structurally and technologically.
Take, for instance, the main stage. If you stand in the auditorium, you see an impressive stage, what you don’t see is that behind it, there is space for five further complete stages of the same size. These are motorised and can be moved around for rehearsal and stage dressing.

The building itself contains some 1000 rooms, 1.5km of corridors and the main rehearsal room, situated in the basement, is 13 metres below sea level.
Known locally as “Operaen” it was designed by Danish Architect Henning Larson and donated to the people of Denmark and the Royal Danish Theatre company by the A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation, under the auspices of Mr Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller.

The overall theatre technology consultant was Theatre Plan from the UK, with Richard Brett as project leader. Theatre Plan worked with a number of sub contractors, and the client, to deliver the various systems in the theatre. For the Royal Danish Opera, then head of sound, Klaus Wolter had responsibility for the performance sound system working with Erik Falck of Moto Audio Sales on the system design as well as Morten Løkken, Project Manager with InformationsTeknik who installed most of the Operaen’s AV infrastructure.

The focus of Operaen is of course the spectacular main auditorium. Depending on seating arrangements it can eat up to 1716 visitors and it’s ceiling is covered in (nearly) 24 carat gold leaf.

Sound reinforcement and performance sound here is provided largely L-Acoustics equipment supplied by Moto Audio Sales. Erik Falck describes the system:

“Either side of the stage, actually mounted in the proscenium, and hidden from view, are mounted four 112XT active 2-way enclosures. These are primarily for instrumental accompaniment, or playback.”

One of the important features of the design process was that Theatre Plan actually designed-in speaker positions based on their own extensive experience of theatre design. It was then left to Falck and Wolter to design a system delivering the required standard within those constraints. Part of their innovative solution is the auditorium’s centre cluster. Ceiling mounted, it can be winched up and down as required.

The cluster’s primary function is for any voice reproduction, either from performers or announcements to the audience. It consists of five L-Acoustics Arcs loudspeakers, with low frequency support from a pair of SB 218 subwoofers. These are fixed at the top of the proscenium, and are not part of the mobile cluster.

A front fill system built into the front of the stage comes in the form of six MTD 108a loudspeaker, which due to their small size and short / medium throw are ideally suited to the task according to Erik Falck. A further eight of same speakers also make up the delay system mounted on the level four balcony and ten more the surround system on the level one balcony. On the lower three balconies, in-ceiling mounted Renkus Heinz TRC 51 full range speakers are used to provide both delay and surround. The even coverage generated by this design can be seen from the L-Acoustics sound vision simulation used to settle upon speaker choices.

Backstage monitoring comes in the form of seven 115XT loudspeakers, once again from L-Acoustics. The backstage area also features a Sennheiser wireless microphone system for individual micing of soloists etc.

The infrastructure of the sound system is a hybrid one. All of the distribution is digital with DSP coming from BSS Soundweb 9088 Networked signal processors and 9008 digital expansion units. However, at both ends of the sound change the inputs and outputs are analogue. The matrix system allows any and all of the operas audio infrastructure to be use to playback various sources. This is mirrored in the video routing system.

Amplification is also from L-Acoustics. Four-channel LA15a’s drive the delays, whilst LA17a’s and LA24a’s power the main performance system. A solitary LA48a drives the subwoofers in the central cluster.

The view from the sound booth is a special one, giving an awesome sense of the scale of the auditorium. It features a glass window which is lowered during live performance, and the sound desk, a Studer Vista 8, is rolled forwards to give the sound technician a better position to hear.

During the design of the auditorium, many discussions between Theatre Plan and The Royal Theatre revolved around the needs of the sound system, and the architectural features. One of the compromises reached was the size of the window in the sound booth, and one that Klaus Wolter felt was important.

“It is important to choose your battles, we were adamant that we needed a bigger opening than was originally designed in, and in the end we got one.”

The booth is equipped with a full video editing and recording suite, as well as a remote for the broadcast cameras in the auditorium.

In addition to the BSS and L-Acoustics gear in the audio rack room, a space that Falck takes obvious delight in showing off, is situated the Univox induction loop system, which serves all of the public spaces in the opera house.

Thirteen metres below the level of Copenhagen harbour lies the Operaen’s rehearsal room. Acoustically panelled, the properties of the walls can be altered to suit the requirements of the rehearsal. Also, the dynamic lighting system changes throughout the day to reflect the lighting conditions outside the building.

This room is fitted with a number of floor boxes from InformationsTeknik, and also a small recording suite allowing the Operaen to do studio recordings for broadcast.

The Operaen’s rack room is the beating heart of its AV system and Morten Løkken is justifiably proud of the work down here. A pair of Extron 1616V matrix switchers, supported by Kramer VM-1010 video distributors, handle all of the building’s video routing and processing. Feeds from a number of cameras in the auditorium are all fed back here, before being sent back out to Sony 21” and 32” screens located in the public and backstage areas. Morten explained one key use for this.

“Often, performers cannot see the conductor in the orchestra pit from the stage. We therefore have a camera fixed upon him from which we display an image on LCD screens mounted around the first tier of the balcony. This way, the cast can see what is occurring.”

Other LCD screens are located in the staff cafeteria, allowing them to monitor the progress of the performance, and in foyer of the opera house.

Controlling all of this, along with several other key functions is the AMX control system. A pair of AMXAXB-CAM camera controllers operate the Ikegami monitoring cameras whilst a NI-4000 Netlinx system and a number of interface cards pull it all together.

The operator interface consists of a Modero 7.5” panel in the rack room, and also a pair of Modero 7” touch panels located in the back stage area on moveable trolleys. The AMX system is also linked into the lighting control, curtains and other stage managers functions.

Throughout the opera house are scattered another important feature of Løkken’s system, specially installed access boxes. This allows one to tap into virtually any of the opera house’s AV systems, be that the Clearcom intercomm system, the BSS audio system with a mobile mixing desk or the video system with one of the portable AMX panels.

Bosch’s Praesidieo system was installed by Pro-Partner Denmark A/S to serve the need for both a public address and emergency voice alarm system. Combining both functions saved considerably on installation time and cabling.
The LBC 35000 range of ceiling speakers is used in the public areas. Whilst LBC 3201 line array speakers were located in the main auditorium to provide announcements in emergency situations. Three are installed on each side of the state, and a further on the balcony levels.

Combining the Bosch system with Dateq’s MusiCall system provides source selection via wall mounted panels. To achieve this, 70 of the 79 Praesideo power amplifiers are specially designed to accept additional analogue inputs from the MusiCall Matrix units. Four sound source channels (public address, main and second auditorium stage performances and ambient music) are fed in through the master matrix unit. Channels are then selected on the wall-mounted panels, of which there are 280 (one of each zone) located throughout the building.

In a world where it often seems that major projects are doomed to finish late, over budget or poorly, it’s a testament to the team involved on this one that none of the above was true.

Richard Brett of Theatre Plan attributes this success to the small size of the managing team and the single-mindedness of Maersk Mc-Kinney Møller in getting the results he wanted on budget. His attention to detail included visiting dozens of buildings to see how construction materials degraded in appearance with time, and personally testing the material and design for the seats in the auditorium. The result is truly a building fit for a queen.

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