Live opera can be a life-changing experience — and London’s premier opera house is using immersive sound to explore new ways of sharing it.
The poet Robert Burns once wrote, “Opera is where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of dying, he sings.” In opera, both emotion and music are presented on a vast scale. On a single evening there can be 75 musicians in the orchestra pit, 10 or more principal singers, a chorus of 50 and maybe another 25 musicians playing behind the stage. The dynamic range of the music can stretch from a single voice, piano or string quartet to a full-throated fortissimo with over 150 musicians performing a thunderous climax.
The Royal Opera House in London has been broadcasting live to cinemas in 5.1 surround sound for the last eight years. More than 750,000 people saw a live screening during the 2015/16 season, and in the 2016/2017 season, there are 12 live broadcasts to over 1000 cinemas around the world. The broadcasts are in High Definition and have subtitles in seven different languages. Many of these broadcasts are edited for subsequent DVD and Blu-Ray release, and the Royal Opera House recently stepped up the listening experience by releasing the first opera Blu-Rays with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. In this article, we’ll go behind the scenes and look at the recording and mixing techniques required to bring a night at the opera to the cinema and home and investigate why immersive audio, with sound all around and above you, is such a great new format for classical music.
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