Zurich Opera relies on Lawo remote production
Friday, 18 September 2020
opernhauszuerich1rehearsalroommc236Installed equipment includes a Lawo mc²36 console
Switzerland - In the age of social distancing, how can an orchestra and choir create a great musical performance when they cannot be in close proximity to each other? During the coming season, Switzerland’s Zurich Opera House will rely on Lawo IP technology to solve this problem.
The need to find a solution for future performances became clear in early 2020, after Switzerland’s lockdown went into effect on 15 March. That solution came in the form of an IP-based remote production installation from Lawo, designed specially for WAN-based remote productions.
Equipment includes a Lawo mc²36 console, Compact I/O stagebox units, and V__remote4 devices to transport and process video and audio signals, plus an upgrade of the Lawo Nova73 HD Core already installed at the Opera House which adds Ravenna networking and additional SFP Ethernet ports.
“At first we sat at home, puzzled and surprised, but pretty quickly we were thinking about how to move forward,” says Oleg Surgutschow, head of the Opera House’s sound department. “While some departments, like the workshops and costume departments, were able to continue working under the prescribed anti-corona measures, the sound department’s activities were pretty limited. So we had to quickly find a way to cope to ensure effective rehearsal operations and, later on, and deliver opera, operetta and ballet performances of the usual high level for the 2020-2021 season.”
Since the orchestra pit proved to be too small for the required minimum distances between the musicians and choir members would likewise have been performing too close together, the management of the Opera House decided the only option was for both to use separate facilities, and the idea was born to transfer the Bregenz Floating Stage Principle to the opera house.
After agreement was reached, Surgutschow and Fabio Luisi, general music director of the opera house, and Michael Utz, deputy head of the sound department, sat down with the other trades to sound out the implementation. Fabio Luisi was already a conductor at the Bregenz Festival, where for years audio and video signals as well as intercom have been transmitted via long-distance connections between the stage, orchestra and audience, so the concept was a familiar one.
“However,” says Utz, “we had to adapt the Bregenz model to the needs of our house. The Bregenz Festival is a long run of performances, while the Zurich Opera House has a changing program with changing musicians and ensembles. The equipment has to be mobile, and we have to be able to adjust settings quickly and safely.” It was quickly decided that the orchestra rehearsal room on Kreuzplatz in Zurich, about 1 km from the Opera House, would have sufficient space for orchestra and choir.
“Of course transmission demands were high,” confirms Surgutschow. ‘The orchestra’s sound had to be reproduced in the main hall, video of the conductor's movements had to be transmitted to the musicians, and communication between the stage, orchestra rehearsal room, and other technically relevant positions had to be ensured. This required a secure connection that could transmit audio and video signals without latency, and we decided to use two Ravenna streams, giving 128 channels in both directions. For the transmission itself we rented a direct, redundant fiber optic connection from the city of Zurich, so that a back-up line is always available.”
The Lawo setup includes a Compact I/O stagebox, a 24-fader mc²36 "all-in-one" mixing console and, with the V__remote4 for converting and transmitting the AV signals, a bidirectional, four-channel Video-over-IP interface with four local SDI inputs and outputs, as well as other tools required for production over WAN. An additional V__remote4 unit is located in the opera house, where a Lawo mc²56 mixing console, installed in 2018, was upgraded with a RAVENNA interface and SFPs in its Nova73HD core.
“The V__remote4 solution covers all our needs - a very powerful system in a slim design,” notes Surgutschow.
In the opera house, wave field synthesis is used, with the Lawo consoles controlling 32 possible listening positions. The large router enables the 3D Sound SSW (Spatial Sound Wave) from Fraunhofer IDMT to be easily integrated for surround and room acoustic applications.
The 2020-2021 season premiere will take place on 20 September, 2020 with the opera Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgski, followed by The Czárdás Princess, an operetta by Emmerich Kálmán.
For the Zurich Opera House, Lawo remote production technology not only helped overcome the distances necessitated by COVID-19, but using the workflows now possible with Lawo equipment, ensures that those distances disappear from the perceptions of both the Opera House’s performers and audience.
(Jim Evans)

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