Sydney Opera House celebrates 40th anniversary

So here’s the vision; present a variety show that includes multiple solo artists and accompanying musicians from a broad cross section of musical genres. For colour and texture add in a musical theatre performance, dance drama, and speeches by Royalty and other associated dignitaries. And then, with just ten minutes available, change the whole stage for a two hundred piece orchestra and choir, including soloists, to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Oh, and by the way, this would be staged outdoors at the Sydney Harbour shoreline on the newly renovated Forecourt of the Sydney Opera House (SOH). “The brief was to deliver an event for the fortieth anniversary of the Opera House,” said Royce Sanderson in succinct summary of what was to be arguably the most challenging mixing project in his fifteen years at the faders. “How could it be anything other than ambitious, challenging, and above all, a show piece of world class music and musicians?” How indeed.

“The stage was very exposed to the Sydney Harbour elements, so the careful selection of microphones, mainly DPAs for the strings and woods, AKG 414s for other instruments, and DPA 4066 headsets for the Opera Australia soloists, was critical in avoiding wind effects. But the main challenge was directing the PA zones away from the Opera House shells to avoid multiple reflections.” Sanderson solved this latter conundrum by selecting a d&b audiotechnik PA system, “We engaged Jands (JPJ Audio) to supply a d&b J-Series system; our experience of d&b within the House is both extensive and very rewarding. The sonic quality of d&b just lends itself very naturally to classical styles of music, with great depth and warmth. My first concern was delivering the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) with as much accuracy and sonic detail as possible. But the location imposed other considerations.” Sanderson turned to Mats Frankl at JPJ Audio to assist in the system design and deployment. “Jands has far more experience than us at applying the distinctive and reliable constant directivity of d&b systems in outdoor events,” said Sanderson. “If we were to achieve the desired quality of listening experience throughout the audience, the correct application of that precise tool was essential.”

That didn’t mean it would be any easier, as Frankl explained. “Coverage on the Forecourt was challenging; the stage faced back towards the Opera House steps at a 45 degree angle. A standard left / right hang of J8 and J12s for the audience on the ground was simple enough, we just needed to get as much height as rigging would allow. But the audience on the steps presented greater problems as they were in line with the building; a multi-zoned, distributed design was required to avoid those unwanted reflections.” Sanderson and Frankl crafted the listening field accordingly. “Two delay towers of J12s were utilised for the main steps, with a right hand J8 outfill positioned next to the main right J array to cover an asymmetrical sector of the audience to that side,” explained Sanderson. “With some clever time alignment it all came together very nicely. Mats and I were able to walk from one end of the steps to the other, pass through three different time zones, and experience a nice phase accurate crossover in-between. The result was seamless coverage. Low end was addressed using exclusively J-SUBs positioned onstage. Counterintuitive I know, but it was fine, the cardioid directivity of the J-SUB resulted in barely any interaction with microphones onstage.”

Sanderson implemented a MidasNet digital backbone for the entire production, “With two Midas Pro 9s at FOH and a Midas Pro 6 onstage for monitors. Once connected, we were able to keep all inputs and sub-mixes to stage within MidasNet without the need for analogue splitting. Monitors received multiple orchestra sub mixes back to stage for the SSO and soloists. Our in house recording studio then utilised the Midas 9650 network bridges at the Forecourt stage to convert all 120 inputs into Madi, which then travelled via fibre inside to the other end of the Opera House to the AVID System5.”

The teams from SOH and JPJ had just six weeks to master the project and deliver, “The decision was made for FOH and monitoring mixing to be designed and run by Sydney Opera House crew early on. We already had a long term working relationship with all the resident companies performing in the event. Mats’ team at Jands oversaw the installation of speaker systems and microphones. They also attended to an area at which they are particularly skilled, the management of changeovers between acts.”

Besides a healthy slice of Sydney residents the concert was also attended by members of the Utzon family and the Danish Crown Prince and Princess, reconfirming the indelible link between Australia, Europe, and the globe spanning reach of culture through music.

Sydney Opera House images are used under licence from the Sydney Opera House Trust. Photographer credit Daniel Boud.

d&b audiotechnik