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Santa Fe Opera Reimagines the Sound of Hades

The open-air venue delivered an immersive live sound experience to the audience in its innovative reimagining of Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

Santa Fe, NM (August 22, 2023)—Santa Fe Opera is using Lectrosonics SSM belt pack transmitters and channels of Venue2 receivers to help deliver immersive live sound to the audience in its innovative reimagining of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, one of the oldest known operatic works.

The Santa Fe Opera is no ordinary opera company, and the company’s home, the open-air Crosby Theatre, is no ordinary opera house. The opera’s new production of Orfeo is directed by Yuval Sharon with music by Claudio Monteverdi and a world premiere orchestration by Nico Muhly. 

The artistic choices around this production, which include using effects processing on individual voices as well as mixing them spatially into the specially built multichannel surround system, required that the key characters wear wireless mic systems. Although opera traditionally is done 100 percent acoustically, the innovative artistic directions that Sharon took for Orfeo required very close miking of the non-chorus performers so that their voices could be cleanly processed. 

Area mics would not sufficiently isolate the individual voices from each other and from ambient sound. Therefore, sound designer Mark Grey opted to use Lectrosonics wireless, which he had used previously.

READ MORE: Lectrosonics Preps for the Future.

Grey explains: “In Act II, when the characters go down into Hades, Yuval wanted the sound world to radically change. I got into the Crosby Theater and started experimenting with the processing, like reverberation coming from the surround sound, and key roles sung or spoken from offstage.” 

Grey supplemented the theater’s four main P.A. loudspeakers with 10 more to create the surround system that would give spatial effects to the otherworldly reverberant vocal fields. Grey allotted the 14 Lectrosonics channels this way: “Thirteen channels are on characters who are onstage and sometimes offstage. The fourteenth is dedicated to a character who is only offstage. We also have wired microphones offstage. We’re using DPA 4061 mics on the SSM belt packs.”

The opera’s Audio Engineer, Abbey Nettleton, offers a unique reason to appreciate the Lectrosonics wireless systems: “There’s a lot of wind. The theater is pretty well protected because it has wind baffles on one side, but when the [back of stage] doors are open, we’re battling the sounds of outside.”

Audio/Visual director Cooper Adams favors the SSM transmitters for their very small size, because “SSMs could be tucked anywhere, and they work great with a variety of microphones.” Although they’re primarily for effects, he explained, “we’re also rigging some performers in acrobatic harnesses, and we wanted to give them support.”

He adds, “The Lectrosonics products are like little tanks. I’ve always been extremely impressed with the quality of the products. Lectrosonics also offers silicone jackets for the transmitters, which are important because in this production at one point the characters are in a mist, essentially enveloped in rain onstage.”