Voice alert: Covent Garden instals discreet amplification

Voice alert: Covent Garden instals discreet amplification


norman lebrecht

September 30, 2015

Installation magazine reports that the Royal Opera House has ‘upgraded its sound system’ with ‘eight KP102s mounted each side of the proscenium arch.’

The system comprises the aforementioned KP102, colour matched to the gold of the proscenium arch, with 24 KKS50 Compact Sub-Bass in six clusters of four subs, three clusters each side. As well as eight KK102 front fills built into the new thrust stage, two KA84 four channel amplifiers powering the main proscenium L/R system, a KA84 four channel amplifier powering all six sub bass clusters and a further KA24 four channel amplifier powering the front fills.

royal opera house covent garden



Does that mean singing voices will be subtly boosted? Here’s the none-too-categorical answer from ROH head of sound Steve Zissler: ‘As well as being an opera house, we also host commercial events,” said Zissler. “And for us, the K-array is a system that covers at least 90/95% of what we want to do.

‘When you walk into the auditorium, you’ve got the grandiose gold proscenium, rich red plush seats and you’re not expecting to see a loudspeaker hanging above your head. That’s the key to it for us; it’s all about people coming into the auditorium and not seeing a loudspeaker, or not having a sense of the sound being reinforced. For a commercial event, it’s fair enough, but generally, if we’re doing some of the more contemporary operas or ballets which may have electronic instruments as part of the score, you just want that sense of the sound being lifted, but not the sense of it coming from that loudspeaker over there.’

Hmmm. Must check this out.

royal opera house covent garden


  • Anon says:

    Deliberately evasive answer!
    Here’s hoping the new system might lead to a less over-amplified guillotine in Carmelites next time that is staged.

    • Sébastien Chonion - recording producer says:

      People, people…
      Stop writing speculative non-sense!
      Every opera house has a reinforcement system which is required depending on the composition or the production. This doesn’t mean that Wagner or Bellini operas are being reinforced! Not at all.
      Very good answer from Steve Zissler.
      You can trust that it will be used in the highest artistic way and with integrity to the music. The wording he uses show it.

  • Peter Freeman says:

    This is very worrying indeed. There needs to be a more definitive statement from the very top. Opera is a sub-genre of classical music, which has never used nor needed any electronic enhancement in an indoor environment, nor even in the vast outdoor ellipse of Verona Arena. Amplifying voices could be the beginning of the end for opera as we know it. Nobody will need to train to project their voices any more. And why exactly is ballet mentioned? Is its footfall to be amplified too? Also, as we know from musicals, amplifying voices means amplifying the orchestra as well. Is that to be forced upon us too? Clarification please, Mr Beard!

  • Dave T says:

    Excellent hack-speak for “I can neither confirm nor deny.” Steve should be in politics or PR.

  • Kasper Holten says:

    No need to worry. The sound system is to support events we hold such as the Olivier Awards, BAFTAs and concerts by bands or singer song writers – as well as some modern ballet and opera scores where the composer requests a degree of sound mixing and amplification. Opera singers are otherwise not amplified – I personally guarantee it!

  • Anne says:

    Calm down, the ROH has been using amplification equipment of one kind or another for years. I believe it has used the excellent ProAc and ATC speakers, and Chord amplifiers on many occasions for specific purposes.

  • Emil says:

    Yes, because the voice which asks you to turn off your mobile phone comes from a poor staffer shouting in the auditorium.

    Now the question is: in light of Kasper Holten’s explanation, will you: a)amend the article without acknowledgment? b) Delete the article without acknowledgment? c) Pretend nothing happened and leave the article up in all its falsehood?

    • Olassus says:

      Emil, if you don’t like the way this site is run, why keep returning? It is irksome having to read your complaints about editorial nearly every day.

      • CDH says:

        It was a legitimate question. Many articles are amended to include an update. The question NL now raises –equally legitimately, and to which he received a considerably less than satisfactory answer — is no longer a question, given Mr. Holten’s contribution.

        This is a public forum. It is not Holy Writ. That regular readers and posters care to comment on very fluid standards is a healthy thing, which a healthy site and healthy-minded followers would encourage, not try to shut down. Shades of the despised Putin!c

      • Emil says:

        A few reasons:
        1- Slipped Disc is connected to most sources of information in the classical world; thus, it generally is a good one-stop news feed, if taken with a big grain of salt.

        2- I do not believe for a second that by ignoring this the problem will go away. This blog claims to be ‘journalism’, and by usurping that title harms music journalism worldwide. It lowers standards, creates false controversies and creates problem for the industry worldwide. I take for example the OSM/Nagano fabrication a few years back, where the OSM had to issue a press release just because of fabricated rumours on this blog that Nagano was about to leave.

        3- If Norman Lebrecht claims to be a journalist, where is the wrong in holding him to journalistic standards?

        4- You suggest that I stop reading a blog that I do not like. I can suggest the same about my comments. Every time you see my name, skip to the next comment, if that makes you feel any better.

  • Dominic Stafford Uglow says:

    This tired canard has been around since the early 90s, when I was working at Covent Garden and the theatre installed an acoustic loop for the hard of hearing (who wore an earpiece).

    A theatre, ANY theatre, requires an amplification system, not for performance, but for the numerous other activities that go on in the house.

    If singers were being amplified, you’d know (at least if you had ‘ears’) instantly.

    • Emil says:

      Indeed, it is quite telling that opera lovers who oppose amplification because it would destroy the pure sound of the unamplified voice simultaneously claim to not be able to detect amplification when it is used.

      Of course I would oppose amplification of regular (i.e. not involving deliberate, planned amplification) operatic singing. I was against the fact of it being used in the 2012 Troyens, where the offstage chorus was relayed by amplification. I oppose it being used (very crudely) by the Opéra de Montréal. However, I trust my ears in making that judgment, not fear-mongering speculation.

  • Sarah says:

    I’ve been to at least one opera there where singers have definitely been amplified. You can’t sing facing upstage and aiming through a hole in the wall and be heard from the back seats where you are high up enough to be effectively not under the same roof without some amplification. I would say it’s not that big a deal though, you have to work with the building you have.

  • Una says:

    What a load of nonsense this! All theatres of any worth have amplification systems, and I’ve sung in ROH chorus in my time. We had it then and it’s not a big deal. Real opera singers don’t get amplified, and thank goodness Kasper Hotlen has explained what has gone on for years. ROH need a 21st Century amplification system, not something from the dark ages, and particularly for the modern operas where the composer at times has actually asked for it.

  • Joe Hannigan says:

    A non-issue; nothing new here. It’s part of their general sound system, not nec. for amplifying opera.

    Good PR for the folks that sold them the system, however. These kinds of articles appear all the time in industry magazines like Mix, Pro-Sound News, etc.

    They did that at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in the 80’s. A colleague (Anthony Benson) did tests on the fabric they used to cover the speakers, to make sure it wouldn’t adversely affect the sound. I don’t know if they’re the same ones in there now, but every major hall needs a good sound system, even if it’s not used for operatic productions.