Umestan, Sweden – March 2015… Set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan War, Elektra is the story of the female lead character Electra, and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon. Performances of the one-act opera by Richard Strauss took place outdoors near the heart of the city of Umeå (located in Norrland), Sweden as part of the ‘European Capitol of Culture 2014’ festivities. Being outdoors, wind and moisture were ongoing challenges, so to ensure consistent audio performance for all vocal performances, H6 Headset microphones from Menlo Park, CA-based Countryman Associates were placed into service.
Lars Wern served as the sound designer for the production of Elektra. A seasoned audio professional with a fondness for Countryman microphones, Wern deployed H6 Headsets on all thirteen vocalists while the five principal performers were also outfitted with Countryman B6 Omnidirectional Lavalier microphones as backup units. All microphones were used in conjunction with Sennheiser wireless systems incorporating SK2000 transmitters and EM 2050 receivers. Wern discussed the nature of the project and his choice of Countryman microphones.
“Elektra was staged in August of 2014 by The NorrlandsOperan, a Swedish opera company in Umeå and La Fura Dels Baus, a Spanish dramatic art collective,” Wern reports. “The stage was two hundred metres long (just over 656 feet), and was erected at the old military command center Umestan near the heart of Umeå. The grandstand accommodated 2000 spectators and also represented the palace in which Elektra's dysfunctional family live with their servants.”
“Wind was a constant challenge,” he continued. “We used windscreens extensively— especially during the ‘flights of the giants,’ referring to scenes in which actors deliver their performances from platforms inside the chests of mechanical giants flown directly over the audience. “We’ve used the Countryman H6 for operatic vocalists in the past, so we knew we could have the right gain version of the mics that would best cope with the performers’ very loud voices. The sound quality of the Countryman H6 is very good, so it was easy to convince the artists that these mics were the best choice.”
Moisture resistance was yet another important consideration in the choice of microphones. “Since the show took place outdoors and there was a lot of water (appearing as blood), it was extremely important that the microphones could withstand moisture, or splashes,” Wern explained. “Here too, the Countryman H6—with its water resistant design—was an excellent choice. Throughout the weeks of rehearsals and all five performances, we didn’t have a single failure. The microphones performed above and beyond expectations.”
Elektra was supported by a 70+ piece orchestra that performed from an adjacent building and whose sound was mixed through the house sound system along with the vocal performances. The sound reinforcement setup included a six channel FOH system and an 8-channel surround system for the bleachers.
For any production of this nature, product reliability is essential, as is the ability to get answers when questions arise. In this regard, Wern was very complimentary of Countryman Associates. “Countryman is really supportive of their customers,” he says. “Whenever I’ve had questions, the company has been very responsive in getting back to me. They’re a pleasure to work with.”
Reflecting on Elektra and his experience with the Countryman microphones, Wern offered these parting thoughts, “Elektra was extremely well received by the press and numerous reviews have praised the show’s audio quality. For the crew and I, it was a once in a lifetime show. I am very thankful for the opportunity to create a sound design of this nature and to have the full support the show’s producers. I am also very grateful to the artists who showed a lot of patience and trust. They were all fantastic to work with. This was an experience I will never forget and the Countryman microphones played a vital role in the show’s success!”
For additional information about the NorrlandsOperan / La Fura Dels Baus production of Elektra, visit http://umea2014.se/en/event/elektra/.
About Countryman Associates
For more than 30 years, Countryman has focused on developing microphones and accessories that deliver maximum gain before feedback, with the highest possible rejection of wind, vibration, interference, and other unwanted sounds. The result is warm, clear vocals in speaking and singing applications, delivering natural audio reinforcement that requires almost no attention from the sound engineer or the performer. For additional information about Countryman Associates, visit the company online at www.countryman.com.
Photo Information: NorrlandsOperan / La Fura Dels Baus production of Elektra. Photo credit: Mats Bäcker