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O brother, wired art thou?

Shocker of the century! The New York Times reveals that Met singers are miked!*

* For some broadcasts and telecasts, and “infrequent instances” for “a special sound effect.”


  • Will says:

    Gelb does insist that the microphones feed only into radio and HD broadcasts and that no amplified sound is fed into the audience save for the aforementioned special effects. For those who believe that the MET amplifies singers into its own auditorium, I simply ask: if that is so, then how come there are so many complaints of singers being “inaudible?”

    • Maury D says:

      That’s my question, as well.

      • armerjacquino says:

        Apparently, according to the RIGOLETTO anecdote below singers wearing mics are allowed to become inaudible in ensembles, because that makes perfect sense.

        After all, if you’re secretly running a massive conspiracy to mic singers in secret (and buying the silence of several hundred musicians, chorines and crew) you don’t actually want to make them audible. You’ll just turn the mics off during ensembles.

        Me neither.

  • Camille says:

    How appalling! I had no idea such things went on at The Metropolitan Opera House.

    This requires my writing a letter of protest to not only The Gray Lady, the Metropolitan Opera Association, my local congressperson and Mayor Bloombug (what he has done for Big Gulp drinks perhaps he can effect in this casus belli), but above all, the Ladies’ Musical Society! Maybe I shall petition Dame Gwyneth as well for she CERTAINLY never needed a microphone.

    The Horror!

  • MontyNostry says:

    Tony T -- cub reporter strikes again!

  • Lee B. Ahmo says:

    Many embedded tidbits in the article. What does it mean that the practice was “rare” before the advent of HD broadcasts?

    • mskapay says:

      Remember Manuela Holterhoff’s godawful Cinderella and Company book (loosely) about Cecilia Bartoli? In that book, in the context of the rumour that Bartoli’s tiny voice was miked, the Met assured her (long before the HD broadcasts) that the only time they used mikes was when a singer wore a full mask of some sort; Fafner the dragon in the Ring was given as an example.

      However, not long after a post appeared on Opera-L that claimed that miking of singers like Bartoli happened, despite nobody acknowledging it. And with Bartoli being such a hot commodity back in the few seasons she did with the Met, it wouldn’t surprise me if that did happen, to ensure that their big name performer was well reviewed and beloved by the opera-going public of New York. (Which ultimately was pointless since she abandoned the Met after a few seasons anyhow).

      The miking in the situations outlined for HD broadcasts seems perfectly reasonable to me. It’s hard to get good sound quality out of live theater broadcasts in a loud stage setting, like the dancing scene in Carmen.

  • vilbastarda says:

    Old news! If you follow any of the singers on Twitter, or Facebook, at one point or another they all complain that on the days with radio/sirius/HD broadcasts they have to fix the microphones in the wigs. Now, if the sound captured with those microphones is also amplified in the house, that’s another issue, one that I am fearful of. I experienced badly amplified house sound at a lesser opera house, but everybody denied it, which just tells me that the practice exists, and the one that I experienced had a “glitch” in level/quality/adjustment.

    • armerjacquino says:

      “I experienced badly amplified house sound at a lesser opera house, but everybody denied it, which just tells me that the practice exists”

      Or that you were mistaken?

      • vilbastarda says:

        That is also a possibility, as we can’t be 100% certain of anything in life. However, in this case I highly doubt that it wasn’t amplified, grossly, all the indicators were there. Some things appear more certain than other.

    • SilvestriWoman says:

      As a former singer, I have mixed feelings. When they were used for radio/ recording broadcasts that was fine. Nothing went into the house, and they did make for fine recordings…

      The worst was when I sang at an all-concrete venue more often used for the likes of Dora the Explorer traveling shows than classical music. The symphony used the mics to balance the gawd-awful acoustic, but it also meant that he tended to hire singers at least one size too small for the work being performed. Singing the Verdi Requiem, it was one of the worst experiences in my life, as I was the only singer used to singing the rep. The other singers had mostly light Mozart and Rossini on their CVs. The “bass” was actually a high baritone. The conductor had me constantly reining in my voice until, halfway through the performance, my larynx was popping up in my throat. By the Libera me, I just thought: Screw it -- I’m singing this piece in my voice, conductor be damned… Of course, he never hired me back, but at least I walked off the stage with my integrity intact.

      • Camille says:

        What a horrible experience SilvestriLady!

        Yes, concrete kills, just ask any mafia hitman!!!

        You did the right thing. Brava and bully for you.

        • SilvestriWoman says:

          Cher Camille, you’re too kind! Yeah, concrete’s awful. In the late 80s, I sang a semi-staged Figaro, with a tiny chamber ensemble and piano, in another “bunker.” That company had integrity, and did not use mics. In order for our words to be clearly heard (it was in English), we had to pretty much throw staging out the window, and sing at the lip of the stage. Problem was -- we were so far downstage from the musicians behind us, that it was hard to hear them. (There was also no conductor.) That the Act 2 finale didn’t fall to pieces was a testament to the artistry of all the singers. It was scary but I was tremendously proud of all of us. How many opera stars could have pulled that off? Some can barely get through without a prompter!

  • Hippolyte says:

    Does ANYONE but Tomassini use the term “opera buff” which inevitably turns up in every piece he writes about opera, and, sure enough, we get it twice in this one.

    • manou says:

      Well, Olivier Py uses the term “opera in the buff”, as illustrated in his new Trovatore at the Bayerische Staatsoper.

    • Camille says:

      Indeed. It sounds like something the character Felix from The Odd Couple would call his Saturday afternoon Met broadcast brunch club members.

      What other terms are there, I asked myself…?

      Well, there is:
      opera aficionado
      opera fan,
      opera attendee,
      opera maven,
      opera patron,
      opera crazy,
      Member of the opera audience…

      …You get the drift. One wonders why and how the inimitable TT has become SO enamoured of this phrase that it comes up, Every. Single. Time. One would also think a professional critic would own a little book called a THESAURUS. I have a very nice one I might lend him.

      Also interesting to note his companion in this C.S.I. Musical Investigation is the similarly inimitable Ms. Sara Krulwich, who, over the course of the last fifteen years I’ve been eyeing her accompanying photos for the Times, has come up with perhaps the most unflattering, unlovely, downright BUFUGLY and compromising photos of opera singers I have ever seen!

      Sorry to go on an olde lady rant as I didn’t intend such. It’s just that I am tired of TT and Mme. Krulwich, who most certainly has lived up to her unfortunate sounding cognomen with those ghastly photos of hers.

      Finis rant.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        Wow, I bet Beth Bergman got a chuckle from your crtitque of Krulwich, who always struck me as an industrial strength photographer. Someone like Beth, who knows every note of the music and every breath a singer takes, knows exactly the right moment to snap photos on the fly.

        • Camille says:

          Bergman, I remember well as a portraitest. She realized the hard work going on and tried to help them out from a flattering angle.

          I am not alone in this, for It is not just my opinion, but Monsieur Camille’s as well. We have watched tme after time in horror, as yet another Medusa face emerges in the pages of The Times. I mean DOZENS of unfortunate photos of opera singers and situations, to the end that, the first thing we are on alert for in a review is a Cruelwitch exclusive. I have to admit, some are priceless. One picture of Jane Eaglen and Pavarotti lived on the refrigerator for eighteen months as aversion therapy and it so scared the shite out of me every time I opened the fridge that I closed it! End result = minus 10 kgs.

          So those pictures are perhaps not without their value. Except for the unfortunate recepient of the photo shot.

      • shoegirl says:

        A dear friend kindly describes me as an “opera tart.” I rather like that one.

        I only listen to opera in the buff if its at an invitation only party at Lucy’s dungeon or if there’s a juicy trouser role present ….

      • Nerva Nelli says:

        Another TT oddity in this piece has yet to be mentioned. He writes, “about “Bartlett Sher’s 2012 production of ELISIR, which returned this season.”

        Sher’s staging opened the season now ended: “this season” for the articles purposes. What return is he talking about?

  • operacat says:

    Looking at today’s opening picture, I am suddenly fantasizing that Channing Tatum might be Hugh Jackman’s understudy for the Met’s upcoming MERRY WIDOW. Or even better, that Channing Tatum will replace Renee Fleming! Hugh and Channing waltzing to the Waltz (with shirts off of course). Mr. Tatum is considering the film version of GUYS AND DOLLS (albeit as Nathan Detroit) so it could happen.

  • redbear says:

    Speaking of microphones, there was a note today that the VSO will start streaming operas in the Fall.

    • RnR says:

      Now that’s exciting news! Will they be streaming from their own site?

      • redbear says:

        Apparently the Austrian government station will be involved. There might even be a charge. Dominique Meyer noted that, with 99.6% of tickets sold last season, it was an opportunity to reach larger, and younger, audiences. He spoke of the Rosenkavalier mit Renée and Puccini’s spaghetti western with Stemme and Kaufmann. The article was in yesterday’s Die Presse.

  • zinka says:

    Since Brenciu and Filianoti had these TINY voices in Rondine..i assume that they could not sound like Corelli…

    On the day that there is real miking and Angela sounds like Eva turner..i stay home….

  • arepo says:

    Mr. Gelb says: “And in Bizet’s “Carmen,” in Richard Eyre’s production, also seen this season, during the scene at Lillas Pastia’s tavern when the women start dancing, the stomping and shuffling would drown out Carmen on a broadcast.”

    Is that so?
    Then pray tell, what ever happened over the airwaves 20 years ago when we listened to Saturday afternoon Met opera? I never noticed any problem --unless they were using those “sometime mikes” back then too.
    (calling Peter Allen, calling Peter All…)

  • armerjacquino says:

    I just don’t believe singers are miked on grounds of audibility -- not Bartoli, not anyone. Firstly, the balancing of a miked voice with other non-miked ones would be a nightmare for any sound mixer. Secondly- where are the speakers? Are they hidden? If there aren’t any FOH speakers there’s no point in miking anyway. Finally, having worn radio mics for countless shows, I can tell you that even the smallest ones are visible. Hidden mics would be counter-productive because if radio mics are even slightly covered, the sound is ruined.

    Occam’s razor and all that.

    • warmke says:

      I can give you an example: having worked with a large ensemble that regularly hired between 60 -- 80 heavy voices for choruses to sing Verdi, for example, Macbeth, an interesting moment arrived when the music director of another large company came as a guest conductor and exclaimed in horror that the chorus was not miked from above and “pushed” through back speakers to give greater power to the sound, standard practice in the house (a very highly regarded one) where he had conducted for 10 years. He maintained it saved the company a great deal of money in hiring chorus members by allowing them smaller choruses for big work, and put more heft behind solo voices. The was in the 90′s, so the practice is hardly unknown, and has not been done simply to make the orchestra heard to the singers onstage. It’s been standard practice in some theaters for years, in others, not at all. It’s highly dubious that it happens at the Met: has one singer in an interview come out and said it? Not one who is no longer there? Would seem very unlikely. What Gelb is talking about is something else. But Armer, there are many other houses that do it, simply because American performing spaces weren’t designed for this art form, but many for amplified touring shows.

      • LittleMasterMiles says:

        He maintained it saved the company a great deal of money in hiring chorus members by allowing them smaller choruses for big work.

        But in any major house isn’t the minimum size of the chorus for any given opera dictated by the union? Or do major companies (not using the kind of amplification you describe) routinely hire more than the minimum chorus?

        • warmke says:

          Yes, but the numbers are dictated by a master agreement for each opera and are much smaller than you might think. There has to be wiggle room in there (try putting 80 choristers, soloists and ballet on an avant garde set).

      • kennedet says:

        I was involved in a performance of Amahl where the boy soprano, Amahl was miked. There was a Q&A afterwards in which some bright young lad questioned the existence of the mike. The director stood on stage amongst the cast and audience and LIED. He said we are trained opera singers and we are trained to project our voices without amplification. I think the director was more interested in keeping alive a tradition then telling the truth.

      • armerjacquino says:

        I’m not claiming that miking isn’t used anywhere: I’m claiming that secret, clandestine miking doesn’t happen. The RIGOLETTO example below is just laughable: some arias amplified and ensembles not? Bonkers.

        • operaddict says:

          Excuse me, but secret, clandestine miking occurs all the time. The wires, mics and battery packs are quite obvious. Over the ear, in the wig, and even between the boobs. Those little devils are easy to see.

        • kennedet says:

          Relax amerjacquino, I was just stating a past experience regarding the use of hidden mikes. I was not debating or questioning your views.

          • armerjacquino says:

            I wasn’t replying to your post, kennedet, if you look at the threading. And I’m perfectly relaxed, ta.

    • operaddict says:

      I remember a few seasons back when Calleja sang “la Donna e mobile” and his voice sounded huge in the house. But when the quartet began, suddenly he was barely audible. Likewise Damrau’s “caro nome” and Frontali’s “cortigiani”…gigantic in the house, but then barely there immediately afterwards. It was quite obvious, at least to me, that the hit parade arias had to resound loudly, but then the sound technicians had been instructed to get things back to normal. This performance was not a broadcast but only a regular evening show. Who knows where the speakers are? The voices seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. There was no sense of them emanating from the stage, but rather more a feeling of surround sound. It was all very curious, and very obvious.

      • armerjacquino says:

        So artists were miked but the mics were only turned on for some sections of the performance? Insane suggestion.

        And everyone- everyone- has kept quiet about this. Not one chorus member. Not one orchestra player. Not one stage manager or sound technician or soloist. Not one front row audience member (the mics would be visible, as previously suggested: if they’re hidden, they’re useless).


        • operaddict says:

          You should have been sitting where I was. What I describe was not a dream. It happened just as I say it did.

          • ianw2 says:

            AJ is fighting a losing battle here, but I think it’s worth asking again, where were the speakers? Where was the mixing desk?

            The effect you’ve described would have to be mixed from the auditorium, so there should’ve been a great big mixing desk in the back few rows.

            At the very least, you should’ve been able to see some speakers (big things, terribly hard to hide and still work effectively), unless the sound was being directly beamed into your head through the magic of sci-fi lasers.

          • vilbastarda says:

            Usually at every venue the speakers are in the front, left and right, and sometimes center. They are often used to make safety, and turn the cell phones off announcements, and they are big, and not hidden. And probably the mixing desk is also in a quasi visible place. After all, the best place to hide is in the middle of the action ;)

            As for the “conspiracy” that nobody is saying a word, I actually think that not many people know, I think that if amplification occurs, it is the doing of one or 2 people, max. I remember participating in the chorus of a production in a non-conventional opera theater. We had all the rehearsals on stage, and the sound that we were hearing as we were singing was good, some days better than others. The dress rehearsal was also decent, not a huge sound, but good. Well, during the performance, all of the sudden the sound that came from the chorus, as we were hearing it from the stage, was humongous, it took us all by surprise. All of us were commenting after how good and big we sounded, and a few were wondering were did that huge sound come from. Nobody from the artistic administration said anything, but I am strongly convinced that we were amplified. That venue had microphones on wires up above the stage, they were used for other types of events, and the artistic director of that production was an expert of amplification effects, as his other job was to work with children in kid’s plays. So there, it can happen without many people knowing it.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Ok, ian, my turn.

            1: how is the ‘surround sound’ effect described by operaddict achieved by speakers next to the stage?

            2: WHERE in the Met is this ‘quasi visible’ mixing desk? What does quasi-visible even mean?

            These aren’t little quibbles. If you can’t satisfactorily answer them, the miking theory falls apart. I’m still slightly reeling at being told that the TOP SECRET miking is done with visible mics. I mean, surely everyone can see how insane a theory that is?

          • ianw2 says:

            If secret microphones are being used, that’s the sort of thing a union usually takes a dim view on in case it’s leading to secret recordings of a work without due compensation for the performers.

            The amplification conspiracy is starting to reach Bilderberg levels here.

          • vilbastarda says:

            I can’t tell you where the mixing station is at the Met, as I only sit at the peanut gallery, but I’ll make a point to look for it next time I go, and will let you know. I can tell you where it is at my local opera company: it is right behind the last row of seats in the orchestra level, everybody thinks it is normal. And it has to be normal if the performance is recorded.

            OK, what we are saying here is not that this happens all the time, probably it happens only on occasions, but the fact that it happens, even if rarely, it is disturbing, as it can happen more often. However, the more it happens, the more people will be aware of it, and somebody at one point will have to give an explanation. What is more frightening to me is that sometimes amplification is used without acknowledging it, and lying about it, after all, honesty is much more easily digestible, even if the outcome doesn’t taste good.

          • vilbastarda says:

            Ian, you have a point about unions. This is why I don’t think this will last, or it is widespread. However, a clever mind can spin this happening into a non-event, if it becomes too obvious, or too frequent.

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            I find vilbastarda’s anecdote about apparently being miked in performance but no rehearsals without being told about it a bit far-fetched (although not to the degree of some of the stuff being bandied about here). How on earth did the technical team know it was going to be OK? I have been in productions where amplification has been used for certain effects, and it has taken up large chunks of the technical rehearsals to agree between director, conductor and technical guys exactly what level they want, where the microphone should be in relation to the artist, etc, etc. Deciding to use them without ever rehearsing with them sounds far too risky to have actually happened.

          • m. p. arazza says:

            You should have been sitting where I was.

            Where were you sitting?

            It wouldn’t be unheard of for the singers to deliver their arias from an acoustical “sweet spot” on the stage (assuming you don’t consider that a myth).

            The notion that Battle was miked strikes me as preposterous if only because the Met’s amplification system, if that’s what it was, was so primitive in those days that no one could have failed to notice. I’m recalling in particular the tinny, echoey miking of Sid Caesar’s speaking voice as Frosch (and no bones were made about that).

          • peter says:

            There have always been “sweet spots” on the stage of the Met as well as other theaters: specific spots on the stage where voices seem to carry more. Earlier on in my opera going days, I remember singers would plant themselves in specific areas of the stage knowing that their voices would carry more there. One is tempted to believe there were mics there since their voices seemed much louder but I have a hard time believing mics are used at the Met to make small voices bigger.

          • peter says:

            Apologies to M.P.: I didn’t see your post on sweet spots.

          • Camille says:

            Speaking of “sweet spots” reminds me of the performance I attended of Les Troyens which was Brian Hymel’s second performance ever at the Met. He would stand in a certain place downstage at times, wherein I heard a slight bit of—I don’t know what to call it--reverb, amplification, echo effect—all I know is that it did not sound natural.

            At the subsequent performance I attended and listening very carefully for it — by then he must have become better acquainted with the stage and learned where to place himself.

            Seeing and hearing him again I can only re-echo my bravos to him. I really admire him for grabbing his golden opportunity by the balls and hitting a homer with it!!! I look forward to his Arnaud in Guillaume Tell. Bravo Brian.

            Here is an article from Opera News this month—attention all tenors!—on Michael Spyres, such an interesting and intelligent youngish tenor I have great hopes for:


      • njshoreman539 says:

        Sorry if someone else asked this question elsewhere, but how do John the Baptist’s boomings from the cistern achieve their effect without amplification of some sort? I always assumed there were mikes and speakers somewhere….

    • shoegirl says:

      I’ve got to agree there. They have huge tannoys at either side of the stage in my local concert hall. They have a lot of mike worthy stuff on but they do record a lot.

      I would imagine there is miking in the met for Sirius and web broadcasts, there were rather a lot of these this year. I noticed though, much more stage noise for giulio cesare on web broadcasts than at live on hd. Particularly in the last act, where much of the action is. I’m sure a wig mike doesn’t take kindly to the performer rolling around on the floor.

      • operaddict says:

        There are very sophisticated mics available these days. Little clear plastic things that hide in plain sight. As far as where the speakers are….who knows? Like mics, highly sophisticated speakers can be tucked in small places and yet be very effective. If you turn around in your seat, do you see a glassed in room at the back of the auditorium behind the orchestra seats…people in there? What do you suppose they might be doing? Let’s not be naive. Battle was mic’d, Bartoli, and a host of others. Some people claim that Pavarotti never appeared un-mic’d. PD also. That mic usage was not admitted, but the others were! Well, then there must be speakers hidden in the walls, proscenium, ceiling….SOMEWHERE…or how else were they amplified for the house? What works for some, works for all! Mr. Hvorostovsky is practically inaudible in San Francisco, yet booms out impressively in NY! Can you explain that? Or Flores, or Dessay, or for that matter, most of today’s stars? Mr. Hampson’s Lieder-sized voice seems to satisfy his fans in that 4,000 seat auditorium. Calleja has a tenor suitable for Mozart…ditto Alagna…yet miraculously they fill the biggest opera house in the world with ringing tone! Those are some amazing acoustics!
        Honestly…people in the audience want to hear today’s modest voices loud and clear as they do in their living rooms or on the radio…and do not seem aware that they are hearing amplified sound. Nor do they seem to care. The style of singing today…smallish, generic voices trained on art song and Mozart need to be mic’d. So, for the sake of keeping things going, this is what we are going to get…like it or not.

        • la vociaccia says:

          “Glassed room….What do you suppose they might be doing?”

          I don’t know….maybe something to do with the lights……

          • operaddict says:

            That, too.

            It puzzles me why we are all even having this discussion. This topic has been kicked around for years. And yet, it is evergreen! If they mic’d 30 years ago when voices were generally juicier and more dramatic, so favorite divas had to be bolstered to compete with actual voices that did project, why not now when most of the fav’s have voices that are acknowledged to be slimmer, lighter and overall smaller? Technology is far better now, and so little voices can sing on big stages and not sound ridiculous.

          • armerjacquino says:

            If you’re going to fight actual l

          • armerjacquino says:

            If you’re going to fight actual logic by ignoring it and repeating your cries of ‘it just does so there’ then there’s not much point in carrying on.

            By the way, you do know the difference between a lighting board and a mixing desk, right? It’s just that a lot of people do.

          • la vociaccia says:

            My answer is, if what you say is true, there wouldn’t be so much complaining about inaudibility. Its really that simple. Just about everyone said Opolais started the Rondine very difficult to hear, and eventually she got bigger as the evening wore on. There is NO reason why, if there were microphones, they wouldn’t just have them cranked up from the first minute.

            The same goes for all the complaints about Kaufmann in Act 1 of Parsifal; Gheorghiu in everything *ever,* and so on, and so on. Your reasoning is faulty because, even with the supposed miking, singers STILL sound small and starved compared to how they did in the past.

        • armerjacquino says:

          So does Covent Garden mic as well? Because I’ve never had the slightest problem hearing Calleja there. Shame his voice gets so tiny whenever he hits New York.

        • grimoaldo says:

          “Mr. Hvorostovsky is practically inaudible in San Francisco, yet booms out impressively in NY!”

          I have never heard him in NY but I have numerous times in San Francisco and London and never have had the smallest difficulty in hearing him loud and clear the whole time, every note.
          I do not buy this “they are using sneaky amplification” conspiracy theory. I really believe I would be able to tell for one thing, that is one reason why I do not enjoy musicals for the most part, they always use mics and if I want to hear voices through speakers I can stay at home. Also, even at very high level venues things often go wrong with sound systems, there would be occasional glitches and feedback, I do not accept that the technology is so great that they can do it without people noticing.
          A few years back at the Teatro Real Madrid during a performance of Andrea Chenier the audience became aware of amplification being used, exploded in outrage, catcalls and whistles, stopped the show and the radio broadcast was abandoned mid- performance:

          The opera house’s explanation was that normally the performances are played over speakers in the foyer for latecomers but something went wrong and it was amplified into the house over the system used for announcements, sound effects, etc:

        • CruzSF says:

          Where do you sit in SF, operaddict? I haven’t had any problems hearing Hvorostovsky at the War Memorial Opera House (I sit in Dress Circle, center left). (I never have any problem hearing Gheorghiu, either, to name another famously “small-voiced” singer). I will say that last Tuesday I sat in Orchestra, far house left, and felt that N Gunn had a noticeably smaller voice than everyone else in Mary Magdalene. If there are mics used to bolster the small-voiced, they should have used them on Tuesday.

          • derschatzgabber says:

            Hi CruzSF. Like you, I have never had troubles hearing Hvorostovsky at the War Memorial Opera House. Acoustics in the War Memorial are better in Dress Circle than the Orchestra. In my experience, rear Orchestra (under the first balcony) has iffy acoustics. And the side Orchestra sound has balance problems between the voices and the orchestra -- a singer who sounds fine in Dress Circle may be swamped by the orchestra in Orchestra.

            Having said that, Nathan Gunn has always sounded a size too small for the War Memorial, even when I was sitting in the Dress Circle.

          • CruzSF says:

            I’ve heard Gunn at the War Memorial a few times: as Papageno in most recent Flute, as Figaro in Barbiere, and as Billy Budd. In Budd (2006?), he seemed underpowered to me, but I had no problem with the other two performances. Tomorrow, I’m back there for another performance of Mary M, so I’ll see how he sounds from my usual Dress Circle seat. But … I’m not expecting a booming voice.

            The balance was definitely different last week when I sat in Orchestra Left, compared to that of my usual location. Some instruments sounded like they were being played right next to me. (An effect of the secret microphones? I’m kidding, of course.)

          • derschatzgabber says:

            Hi CruzSF, I saw Gunn in those three operas. I thought he sounded best in Flute, but Papageno is a pretty easy sing compared to Figaro or Billy Budd. In Barbiere I thought he was overwhelmed by the big set and frenetic stage direction. Did you see Hampson in the late season run of the Barbiere? Maybe on the old side for Figaro, but he successfully competed with the set and stage direction.

          • CruzSF says:

            derschatzgabber: do you mean the Barbiere with the revolving white house? I liked that staging very much (I’ve seen it only once). I didn’t see Hampson later in the run. The first time I heard Hampson live was in “Heart of a Soldier.” Before then, I never liked his voice (on recordings, obviously).

            How did Hampson handle the scooter opening of Barbiere? I thought that was one bit that Gunn did particularly well.

        • ianw2 says:

          The first theatre I worked in had a glassed in room at the back of the auditorium to dump latecomers and restless children so this is PROOF POSITIVE of the SECRET AMPLIFICATION CONSPIRACY.

          Matter of fact, I’m wearing a secret microphone right now and amplifying myself through a hidden speaker.

          • operaddict says:

            Enough already. I have seen the mics. On stage. In performance.

          • Camille says:

            Yes, you are. You are amplifying your voice via a parterre box mic.
            And yes, the French are always right and better than us.

            I remember a performance in which a big star came out in act II with approximately twice the size of voice compared to the first. There was just no mistaking it. I left the performance as it became so comical. Just one instance.

          • armerjacquino says:

            Operaddict: funny that ‘I’ve seen them’ wasn’t your opening gambit, preferring instead to wow us with the somewhat less conclusive RIGOLETTO anecdote. Why was that?

          • ianw2 says:

            No one is disputing that you may have seen mics on stage for any number of reasons that have been hashed out already.

            However what is being disputed is that they are used for SECRET AMPLIFICATION!!!!111!!!!, perhaps by the lizard people, to foist such shams as Bartoli, Battle, Florez, Dessay and even PD on an unsuspecting public.

          • la vociaccia says:

            Kathleen Battle was never miked. Not once, not ever. And that is an actual fact, not a speculation or the ignorant adoration of a fanboy. Enough already with the ancient queen chestnuts

  • grimoaldo says:

    “Sometimes a special sound effect requires it,(amplification) like the booming offstage voice of Fafner the dragon in Wagner’s “Siegfried.”

    No it does not require it, how does he think they did it before there was any such thing? Fafners back then sang though a megaphone, not a microphone.
    PS -- I give up on trying to use italics on this site, I mess it up every time.

  • justanothertenor says:

    The Met is not the only house doing miking. Rumor has it a Soprano singing mythical high notes was on the verge of falling apart until she was miked into the house… And no one in the audience has a clue her voice is aided by the wonders of physics.

  • ianw2 says:

    I heard that nobody actually sings any more and that the whole thing is actually controlled by a gigantic computer under the Opera Garnier (of course its the French) and that when a singer is ‘indisposed’ it actually means that Gaston or Jean Luc forgot to ran the anti-virus.

    • operaddict says:

      Not quite true, but somewhat, if truth be told. There is such sophisticated equipment available now that pitch, tone, vibrato and volume can be instantly adjusted and improved…that is IF management deems it necessary to improve a faltering star’s actual performance. If not, you get what you get. The sound industry is light years ahead of what most people would imagine…a good thing…and a bad thing, too. Honesty in live performance is only relative any more. The chosen ones must be protected for as long as it makes sense to do so. The others sink or swim on their own merits as in days gone by.

      • armerjacquino says:

        Sorry, have you worn a radio mic recently? I have, at a major subsidised theatre, and even the state-of-the-art ones we used were a nightmare. They’re easily visible, as even you have conceded, and fallible, and it is UNARGUABLY OBVIOUS when they’re used. The idea that radio mics could be used for some moments in a performance and not in others, without the vast majority of the audience being fully aware, is just cloud-cuckoo-laughable.

  • Fritz says:

  • Camille says:

    While recently at an opera in a theatre in which I had never before been (Sottile Theatre in Charlston, SC, I had an weird and unnerving experience of hearing a kind of reverb from the soprano’s (Jennifer Rowley) voice. It was very annoying. At a certain point it seemed to die down. I just thought it was my misperception of the sound and kept uncharacteristically quiet about it until my husband asked me at intermission “Did you hear that funny doubling up of the soprano’s sound?” So he heard it as well, so I can assume we weren’t BOTH imagining it.

    As far as the Met goes—when I listened from Family Circle years ago, it was not much like the great sound you have today.

    Recently I attended Francesca da Rimini with my secret husband on a night when attendance was not only sparse but dwindled down after each (three) intermissions. We leapfrogged our way up to the third row in the orchestra, having started out just barely under the dread Overhang, the biggest sound deadener at the Met. We finally had a satisfactory experience of the work in the third row as the sound had been quite different in all three locations.

    As far as sound enhancement, that’s been going on for years now but it is very sophisticated—I am not referring to the now you see them now you don’t body mikes, either. Big deal. The Met is a humongous outsized barn, not an operahouse.

    • Cocky Kurwenal says:

      Camille, I have experienced what you describe with Jennifer Rowley on a very few occasions. I don’t want to give any fuel to the secret microphone conspiracy theorists, but I noticed it at a concert performance of Orfeo (Gluck) with David Daniels at the Royal Opera House. However, I was sitting fairly close to the stage, and given the light orchestration in that work, I wondered if what I was hearing was the onstage feedback, turned up a bit too high. Is there any possibility that this could explain your experience too? Of course, it doesn’t necessarily explain mine, but that seemed to be a logical explanation.

      • Camille says:

        Have you then?
        Yes it is a curious phenomena and yours is a likely and plausible explanation.
        This sound distortion happens every now and again and it can be explained away or justified in many ways.

        One thing I do know for absolute certain is that my husband, in a course he took almost twenty years ago now at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in Den Haag, was informed in no uncertain and nonchalant terms by some of his professors, in a course studying modern acoustics and their effects, that such means were readily in place in theatres, and, when pressed, they told him many more “big” theatres than one might think, and rather good-naturedly laughed about it.

        Look at the acoustics of the original opera houses in Italy. They are built in a very specific fashion for the acoustical properties they furnished which would help and not hinder the human vocal apparatus, an exceedingly delicate mechanism. The. Look at the Met. At least the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco has some semblance of being an actual opera house.

        It doesn’t matter. People will believe what they want to.

      • Camille says:

        No, frankly not possible. It was very clear to my ear that there had been some sort of “adjustment” via means of engineered sound, I know not by what means.

        In the case of Ms. Rowley, very talented singer, both of us distinctly heard something strange that had nothing at all to do with natural acoustics. It was a rather smallish theatre, about the size of a movie theatre in the old days, so no barn, but what does it matter anyway? In the first instance, a great and famous singer making his/her final appearances, there was absolutely no mistaking a body mike, as I but rarely have heard such and it stuck out like a sore thumb.

        I am listening to the piano more and more these days, and let me return to my Liszt Transcendental Meditations and be at last at peace after too much vocalistic Stürm und Drang.

        Pax vobiscum and may you find your way to more live performance.

    • luvtennis says:

      Cherest Camille:

      I have no skin in this game as I get to see so little staged opera, but is it possible that you were hearing the singer hit a hall resonance? As for the singer above who grew three sizes that day (like the Grinches heart or was it 20 sizes) during intermission, is it possible that he or she made some adjustments in the placement of the voice to better account for the hall acoustics after getting advice from someone that he or she was not projecting?

      I just offer these notions to consider. Feel free to dismiss them.

  • manou says:

    Well I think it is time to reveal that many opera singers actually use specially designed transparent megaphones, invisible to the naked eye. These contraptions are attached to the singers’ chin by special straps that match the complexion perfectly and are undetectable (the stubble strap designed for Kaufmann has taken years to perfect).

    This is why the singers prefer to stand on the stage facing the audience and are rarely seen in profile

  • Joe Conda says:

    I haven’t read the comments yet but miking was pretty obvious to me watching the Valkyries singing with little to no natural effort whatsoever during the recent telecast. If those roles were cast with 8 Nilssons, it would make sense; but Valkyries usually have to work their buns off to fill that house.

    And why were there large speakers on either side of the proscenium at the Met anniversary a few years ago? No speeches were made, and a friend remarked that every single voice sounded the same size.

    • la vociaccia says:

      Key word there is “telecast.” Of course they sounded effortless; they use close-miking for broadcasts. In the house, the valkyries sounded just as small as you think they would

    • warmke says:

      They were actually spitting blood (Watch Hogan’s first line after the prelude)to get over the orchestra, which was way too loud (particularly with Levine); I can’t imagine how you that that was effortless. The “Ring” is an exception to every rule. Look, those were mostly not “small” voices, you don’t have to put them down, a fair number sing dramatic rep very well elsewhere. But the use of mormalizing on the broadcast brought up a couple of younger more lyric voices to sound more dramatic.

  • La Cieca says:

    Joseph Calleja addresses this question.

    • armerjacquino says:

      Oh dear. How silly, and unnecessary, of Mr Calleja to claim that he’s never been miked, when operaddict has already proved* beyond doubt** that he was!

      Calleja would have been better off keeping quiet, I reckon! After all, his dresser, the wig hair and make up department, the stage manager, the sound engineer, the sound mixer, the audience members who could see the mics, the audience members who could see the mixing desk, the audience members who could see the concealed FOH speakers, any of his fellow soloists, and anyone who saw him backstage have managed to keep his dirty secret! Silly Mr Calleja!

      *incessantly shrieked

      ** without addressing any of the logical flaws

    • overstimmelated says:

      ”I am ready to take one for the team and offer any “journalist” or “conspirator” the opportunity to check me for any “futuristic amplification devices” right before going on stage and right after stepping out of it on the wings…”

      Oh dear! Where does the line form?

  • messa di voce says:

    Calleja’s denial is just more evidence of a vast world-wide miking conspiracy.

    • kennedet says:

      How much of this issue relating to the use or non use of the microphone center on the opera singer’s education and pride. After all, classically trained singers should have a responsibility of maintaning the values and standards that the public and vocal pedagogues, over the years have set for them. Professionally trained classical singers love to boast that they can sing over an orchestra without a mike…and of course, many are able to….but are we being to unrealistic in our demands?? How many orchestral conductors never seek a balance needed to accompany singers? No wonder they need mikes!! When James Levine came to the Met there was a noticeable change in the accompaniment.It was much louder than his predecessors(this is not an accusation but a fact). There was even talk among some aspiring singers at the time to possibly change to a higher voice classification, if possible, in order to be heard.The first argument is usually to post the exceptions to the rule. Everyone does not have the volume of a Pavarotti or Norman, etc. Also, it is important to take into consideration the size of the acoustic. Mastro DiNunzio thought the old Met had better acoustics because of the horseshoe shape versus the new Met. I guess my point is whether to use a mike or not should be based on the circumstances given and not some outdated tradition which makes no sense.