Opera recording

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Opera recording

Post by saltybrian »

I've been approached to record a live-with-audience opera. Not an area of direct experience, so I'd be grateful for any thoughts / advice on approach and any potential pitfalls. Here's the info I have:

The purpose of the recording is for documentation / archiving, not for sale or release. The performance is to be filmed too, so the audio will be for use on that.

The customer has stated that he is not looking for individual capture of each element, more 'a pair of ears in the room'.

I could just take the request literally and stick a stereo pair somewhere and leave it at that, but with so many unknowns I'd like to hedge my bets and have some control over individual sources in case it's horrifically unbalanced. They're not using any PA.

They've bought 6 x cheap Chinese Elvis style mics as props for across the front of the stage (£60 each, INCLUDING a lead and a mic stand!) which I can use, but they will be an unknown until the day of the performance, with the only rehearsal taking place the same afternoon.

There are to be 6 singers, and a 12 piece orchestra: Flute Oboe Clarinet Bassoon Horn Harp Percussion 2 Violins 1 Viola 1 Cello 1 Bass. Instrumentalists will be situated on the floor in front of the stage/singers. The singers won't be moving around much.

The room is a small modern theatre, wide stage, raked permanent seating with capacity of 350(ish).

I did some folky/acoustic recording there last year (more my comfort zone) and it is a good sounding space, so that's a start.

Any advice gratefully received!

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Re: Opera recording

Post by Bob Bickerton »

The easiest solution would be to hand the job over to some else :beamup:

Sounds tricky and if they’ve only got one rehearsal in the venue, then clearly it sounds like an amateur group.

People with far more experience than I will be along shortly, but my approach would be to capture the ‘whole’ performance with a stereo array - doesn’t sound big enough to warrant outriggers, and then to spot mic elements to balance. Though there’s a chance the singers would overpower an instrumental ensemble like that, if they’re not properly balanced.

You’ll need far more information and they must be rehearsing prior even if it is at a different venue. So go along and try and assess what will be required - I wouldn’t leave it to the last day.

I would also make the point that you are relying on the conductor to ‘balance’ the performance, which you will reflect in the recording (even though you may tweak that balance with spot mics).

Given it’s being filmed, you’ll need to make friends with the vidiots doing that side of things and make sure they’re happy with mic placement.

Sounds challenging. I’ll be interested to hear what others say.

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Re: Opera recording

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

I think I'd take the organiser at their word and just rig a stereo pair (if its a nice room Blumlein might work well, or maybe MS if you want some control of image width). Use the rehearsal time to find the optimum array location. Job done.

Anything more than that is going to get complicated because you'll probably need to spot mic almost everything and replace (or supplement) the vocalist mics... and it doesn't sound like you're going to have the time to optimise all that on the day. And then you've got the post-production mix-rescue to do as well.
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Re: Opera recording

Post by John Willett »

A stereo pair would be perfect.

Fly them high so they won't be visible to the audience.

John Barnes used to archive every performance at Glyndebourne Opera and he hung a pair of omnis from the lighting gallery (I was with him one time and we hung extra omnis to do a microphone test at the same time - we had three stero recordings to compare the microphones - very interesting).

Glyndebourne started releasing some of these recordings on CD they were so good.

So .... use a stereo pair of good omnis or an MS rig (cardioid + fig.8) or an ORTF pair of cardioids. Don't add any more, the stereo pair should do it.

If I was asked to record an Opera I would only use a stereo pair and not use multiple microphones.

Although ... a phased array could also be an option - that's an ORTF pair, plus omni outriggers spaced at about 60cm with the ORTF pair in the middle.
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Re: Opera recording

Post by saltybrian »

Thanks very much for the advice.

It's not an amateur thing. The performance is taking place as part of a festival in a pretty remote location (where I live) so any rehearsal won't be anywhere I can access. However, as I say, it's just for the purposes of documentation, so I take some confidence in giving the best I can whilst avoiding being invasive of the performers /audience/ cameraman.

I had a look round the theatre yesterday and there are two lighting gantries, so I reckon that's what I'll go for. One is far enough back for the mics to see the stage and in front where the instrumentalists will be, the other much closer to the stage so perhaps that's also worth setting something on to get a version where the singers will perhaps be stronger.

As mics go, I've several stereo options and would appreciate any thoughts:

Pair of Oktava mk012 cardioid
Pair of Clippy EM272 omnis
Rode NT5
I have a 4050 for fig8 if I go m/s.

The only other fig8 I have is a Samson VR88. I've not tried Blumlein before but guess these two won't work for that?
The Clippys (https://tinyurl.com/2vdft3ph) are primarily for field recording - has anyone tried these for musical applications? Any reason why they wouldn't work?

I could also loan

Pair of Oktava mk012 omnis
Audio Technica BP4025

I think I'll set up several configurations so I can choose the best afterwards, but any pointers/experience that might help me to a short list gratefully received.
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Re: Opera recording

Post by jimjazzdad »

Blumlein with two different figure 8s is a no-no, but the 4050 with one of the Oktava cardioids will work fine for MS. If the lighting trusses are in the right location (near the lip of the stage) that should work for flying the stereo array. I assume that you'll want to avoid anything in the sight lines. Boundary layer mics or PZMs along the stage lip can be quite useful for bringing soloists forward in the mix. If you don't have access to proper BLM or PZM, gaffa-taping the omni mics you mention to the floor along the stage edge may also be useful. You don't mention the orchestra, but it might benefit from a stereo mic too, depending on the number of channels and the mic locker available to you...
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