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Subject: Re: Amplification in the Opera House (formerly RE: SALOME opening night MET 5 December)
From: Frank Cadenhead <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Frank Cadenhead <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 10 Dec 2016 03:44:14 -0500
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On Sat, 10 Dec 2016 07:35:38 +0000, Takis Pavl. <[log in to unmask]> 
wrote:
- big snip -
Now if they start performing opera in huge venues or building bigger opera houses, 
it goes against the art form. I suspect most operas were composed for theatres 
smaller than the MET so if we start building opera houses to get more people in 
rather than serve the art form, we're doing something wrong. 
>Takis

I've commented before on this subject. The average seating of opera houses in 
Europe is around 1400, less than half of the major houses in America. I have 
noticed discrete amplification in the 2500 seat Bastille (the largest seating of any 
house in Europe). This is obvious when there is spoken dialogue. Usually the 
earlier operas with dialogue are in the Palais Garnier which, with great acoustics 
and around 2000, gets closer to the average of European houses. Turning up the 
volume is not needed.    

This was on my mind watching a Boheme from Turino on the Opera Platform last 
night. When discussing singers here, big names are assumed to be associated with 
big voices and we talk endlessly about a handful of names. In Turino, as in 95% of 
the opera houses in the world, huge volume is less necessary. We can hear a fine 
performance with engaged singing and none of the singers are among the 
"handful" blabbed about endlessly here and elsewhere. 

There is another world of opera out there, the world of the 95%. They are hearing 
splendid performances with talented performers (or not) but are "off the radar" 
and should not be. A venue like the Met always makes me uncomfortable because 
the singers must first think about being heard above any other quality of 
performance. So they yell. They yell when they are trying to seduce, they yell 
when they are comforting their dying love, etc. 

19th Century Composers never considered this issue when the largest houses were 
1500 seats. Contemporary composers often expect, and compose, with 
amplification part of the performance. I remember a Turn of the Screw in the 
Bordeaux house in April. The intimacy of the experience (Bordeaux seats 1100) is 
much more like being in a theater. Very large houses change the nature of opera 
and not often for the better and those performances are always what we talk 
about. 

Frank Cadenhead
Paris

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