The Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) is a Boston cultural treasure. Each BLO season includes one or more “Annex” productions in non-typical performance spaces. Acentech has worked with BLO designers and staff on many of these productions to prepare the spaces and tailor set designs to: (1) help performers hear themselves and each other well; (2) enhance clarity of the sung words to audiences; and (3) provide appropriate reverberation to envelop audiences. A few examples are described below.
Boston’s Cyclorama building on Tremont Street in the South End was constructed in 1884 to house a large circular painting of Civil War scenes. The empty space brings endless reverberation, minimal clarity, and unwieldy focusing resulting from the curved perimeter wall and domed ceiling. For both “The Penal Colony,” by Philip Glass, in 2015, and “The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare” by Julian Grant, in 2017, we helped scenic designers and other creative staff to add sufficient absorption to tame the space, arrange audience seating to avoid focusing, and place the orchestra to avoid over-powering the singers.
The Steriti Ice Skating Rink in the North End presented an entirely different challenge: an acoustically “dead” space, with no usefully reflective surfaces. Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti” was set in a night-club, and the stage was surrounded by audience on three sides. Reflector panels were introduced to enhance cross-room communication and to help the audience get the full musical envelopment for all sides of the rink. Similar preparations are underway for the Fall 2019 production of Pagliacci.
The May 2019 production of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Poul Ruders, featuring 50 singers and 65 orchestral musicians, occurred in Harvard’s Lavietes Basketball Pavilion, quite possibly the very space that Margaret Atwood envisioned for parts of her dystopian novel. Acoustically reflective panels were deployed to provide close-in support to singers, audience, and orchestra; absorptive baffles were suspended above the orchestra to aid orchestra-singer balance; and extra curtain material was draped over all unoccupied seats to control excessive reverberation in both rehearsal and performance. Judicious use of amplification for certain singers at certain moments helped them to be heard by all audience sections even over dense orchestration, while maintaining a natural sound overall.
We are proud to help the BLO’s innovative operatic productions to succeed artistically and connect with audiences.