In Opera, There is No Such Thing as a Magic Mike

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Diana Damrau as Violetta in Act I of Verdi’s La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera Diana Damrau as Violetta in Act I of Verdi’s La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera (Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

I was traveling when an article by Anthony Tommasini appeared in The New York Times showing a photograph of the wonderful soprano Diana Damrau wearing a microphone wire during a Metropolitan Opera rehearsal for a production of La Traviata intended for HD (High Definition) transmission to cinemas around the world. E-mails arrived to me suggesting I read the story but I only had the opportunity a couple of days ago.

According to the article, the Met claimed that microphones have been used in some HD transmissions to capture sound for broadcast: "In certain productions during certain scenes singers are sometimes positioned in places on the Met’s large stage where their voices cannot be picked up by the network of microphones used for radio and for the HD broadcasts that have become so popular in recent years. In these instances a singer will wear a body microphone, which carries the singer’s voice to the control panel for the broadcast, but not, [Met general manager Peter] Gelb insisted, into the house."

The issue, and controversy, about when and how microphones are used in opera is hardly new. One of my first articles here at WQXR, on April 25, 2011, approached this issue in such a way that it would stimulate discussion among readers. It certainly did.

Let me first make clear a couple of concepts so that we all understand certain parameters of the discussion. In the context of a performance, microphones serve at least two functions. In radio stations and recording studios, they capture sound to be transmitted to listeners or to a producer who will then make a recording. In theaters they can transmit sound for live radio and television broadcast. In performances at non-classical venues, microphones are typically used to amplify (make louder) sound so that it can be heard in an auditorium. 

To this I wish to add that microphones in a theater can be used to capture, amplify and adjust the sound we hear. In other words, there is a potential for manipulation of what we hear that can be so extreme that there is no way to know if it the real thing or a fake based on the taste and eardrums of the person turning the knobs. Once we take even one step down this road, we are--forgive my bluntness--screwed.

I need only remind you that when the New York City Opera performed at what was once called the New York State Theatre, a practice called “sound enhancement” was installed that purported to make up for inadequacies in the theater’s acoustics. From that point forward, I ceased to think of City Opera productions in musical terms because there was no way to trust what I was hearing. Because City Opera’s management at the time never adequately described how sound was being "enhanced," I had no faith that I was hearing singing done as the artists had been trained to do it. So I watched City Opera performances to see what ideas stage directors had about the works they were producing, but could not take them seriously as music.

Let me share with you some comments from readers of my article of two years ago. One commenter raised several strong points:

"In an operatic performance, the voice is part of the fabric of the orchestral ensemble and should be treated as such. The players in the pit need to listen sensitively to the singers, as if they were playing a string quartet. If you amplify one part of the ensemble but not the rest, you throw the whole thing off balance and you miss out on the sound world the composer was creating." (So I actually don't mind amplification of outdoor concerts...then at least everybody sounds equally lousy!)

"There is also a technical aspect: even some of the greatest venues in the world (like the Met) have, to date, achieved only mediocre sound quality in their broadcasts and recordings. Perhaps some day technology will advance to the point that operatic voices can be reproduced in a realistic fashion, but anyone with ears knows that this is currently far from the case. Radio and HD movie theater broadcasts have their value, but nobody can seriously think that they are a substitute for the real thing, can they? That's like saying you don't need to experience the great wonders of the world when you can just see pictures."

This reader felt there is a place for mikes in the opera house:

"Microphones, and actually all sound reproduction, are not what it was a decade ago. Digital signal processing has made huge strides in pickup and reproduction quality...Singers do need some practice with mikes. They can pick up every inhale, every throat clearing, every click of a heel on a floor and every costume ruffle. All workable issues. But the electronics can also pickup more vocal nuances, that last tear-drop of a note, that would be lost in the large volume of air where there is also the competition with the sound of the orchestra."

This commenter would not agree:

"I am firmly in the camp of ‘No’ regarding microphones in opera performances. I have heard miked performances in opera houses, and they are invariably very discernible, distorting and distracting. Microphones cheat opera-goers of one of the great aural experiences - the glory of a human voice, producing sound that is awe-inspiring, shimmering in the air like a jewel and soaring through (usually) vast spaces. As one whose earliest opera experiences were semi-open-air (the Cincinnati Zoo - yes, Zoo!) with no amplification, no amplified speaker (even with modern advances in sound) could capture accurately the glory of the sounds produced by great singers and a great orchestra, and no amplification was needed even in that open-air venue. It has been my experience that even recordings fail to accurately capture certain indefinable qualities of voices that make them great. I believe that the younger generation will become captive opera audiences simply because un-amplified opera is so different from the concerts they normally attend; it is so amazing to hear that unique sound, unavailable even in the best HD broadcast or on DVD! I hope opera houses will not cheat future generations out of this incredible experience by miking performances. And I agree that the ones that do should make full disclosure of the use of "sound enhancement", or be guilty of defrauding the public!"

I share with the reader from Cincinnati the awareness of having heard singers who are “miked” in opera houses with ostensibly good acoustics. It is always discernible to me because the miked singer sounds different from the others. I wrote the first article and have discussed the issue since in the hopes that we would not experience the further incursion of miking. The fact is that it is there, at least in some theaters and with some artists, whether or not opera companies own up to that fact.

Caveat Emptor

I believe we have reached the point where opera companies should be required to disclose in their season announcements and at the point of sale of tickets whether and how microphones are used in each of their productions. Then the information should be printed conspicuously in the program of the performances affected, just as theaters announce that herbal cigarettes, strobe lights and gunshots are part of a production. 

This is a question of trust and candor. If, like Elsa in Lohengrin, doubt is instilled and belief and trust are poisoned, it is almost impossible to recoup them. I don’t want to even wonder, when seated in an opera house, whether a singer is being amplified. Rather than run a wire up Diana Damrau’s back, wouldn’t it be possible to hang microphones somewhat above the stage, as is done in concert halls that do broadcasting, to capture the sound for broadcast? And then, of course, announce in the program that this is being done.

A larger issue is the place of technology in theaters and how they impact on opera performances. I am not a Luddite in this regard. I love great stage technology, subtle lighting and some special effects. Opera in 17th century France was full of technical innovations and Wagner, in the 19th century, pushed opera house technology even further. But when technology dominates and intrudes rather than serves, something is terribly amiss.

I plan to address the positive and negative aspects of technology in the opera house in future articles and want to know what you think. Please share your thoughts and experiences on this essential topic.


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Comments [25]

Kinnor Classics from USA

True... very few operatic singers today can fill a concert hall with the beauty and power of a true coloratura soprano voice. The halls used to be called opera houses because of the architectural brilliance that was built into them to compliment the opera singer. Sadly, modern halls give in to 'visual appeal' and sacrifice acoustical genius because technology can now make up for poor volume, power, and voice control of modern operatic singers. Any technical wizard at the sound board can make an 'average student' of opera sound 'good'. But rare is the naturally gifted opera voice that needs no help to shake the house, stir the soul, and send adrenaline surging through the veins of passionate listeners. One such unique voice is Idara Aguinaga. An emerging professional who's gift is yet to be appreciated by the world. Like Joan Sutherland, she needs no help being motivated to sing the most difficult coloratura arias in history and yet pulls them off with ease. Dame Joan Sutherland is no longer with us, but we have a duty as lovers of opera to lift up the new gifted artists that possess such rare qualities. So let us turn off the microphones and sound boards and let the real beauty of voice ring through the opera houses once again. We owe it to every generation that will come after us that they too might experience the true perfection of an genuine operatic voice.

Jun. 26 2015 04:58 AM
Dion from South Africa

This is an old blog but still a very relevant topic. The same wires that Damrau wore at the Met was also prevalent when Netrebko sang this role for the first time in 2005 in Salzburg. The wires were clearly visible during Sempre Libre. It, however, appeared to be an in ear prompting device. In the second act while she was hiding behind the couch she seems to try and adjust it in the ear and again at the end of the performance during the curtain call.
In 2006 during the performance of Manon with Barenboim in Berlin, Netrebko tries to adjust the wiring on Villazon during the bedroom scene at the start of act 2. The wires appears to have come loose and she tries to re-stick the plaster. After that the wires are again clearly visible.
Neither Netrebko or Villazon would require any voice amplification as they posess two of the strongest voices on stage today. Barenboim has admitted in the past as to using in ear prompters and I have a feeling that this is being confused with microphones.

Nov. 05 2014 11:01 AM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

I would never trust Peter Gelb to be honest with an audience, however Jay David Sachs has been the acoustics and broadcast engineer at the Met for decades and James Levine is a traditional purest.
If the only role of a microphone is to transmit a voice to a broadcast control room so be it, I and not a broadcast technician however I can understand the need for a transmitter to catch sound and transmit it to the satellites they use for HD live.
This brings to question if broadcast technology should interact with a live performance, radio broadcasts are one thing, but satellite transmission requires much more manipulation of voice and sound.
I would like to see HD transmissions live take place without an in house audience, so as not to rob those in the house of the true Opera experience.
There is an open question regarding the prudence of live HD transmission altogether.
I do not think live opera should be performed with a full audience when in fact a high tech movie production is its final purpose.

Nov. 17 2013 09:19 AM
Robert Auld from NYC

I have noted the many comments over the years by people who speculate about surreptitious miking of opera singers in live performances. In many cases, the speculation is wrong. It is difficult to mike a singer and have it not be noticeable--the amplified sound must come from a loudspeaker, and that speaker will always be at a different location than the onstage singer, which the ear can usually detect. Disguising this fact is almost impossible, even with the techniques available these days. (I speak as an audio professional who has designed and used sound reinforcement systems for live performance.)

There is also a big difference between acoustic enhancement systems, like that used at the New York State Theatre, and between actually amplifying the voice of the singer. In the former case, overall pickup microphones are used to generate additional sound reflections and reverberation in the performing space--the acoustics of the space are changed, we hope for the better. In the latter case, the direct sound of the singer's voice is amplified and made louder, which is what is typically done in Broadway theaters.

The reports of music critics are not always a good guide to the effects of acoustic enhancement systems. I understand that one prominent critic bemoaned the sound of the New York State Theatre system at a particular performance, and then it turned out that the system had not been in use at that time.

Aug. 26 2013 12:02 PM
Jim Hoffheins from Allen, TX

It is only when attending a live performance that you can appreciate how second rate a recording is, even with an exceptional sound system and a great recording. I just heard Joyce DiDonato in Santa Fe, where they have virtually no side walls and no amplification, and her singing was spectacular and electrifying. That said, if the hall is deficient I do not mind some "enhancement". It has been a while since I last hear Carmen at the NY Theater, but I could not detect the enhancement.

Jul. 24 2013 03:52 PM

To JonJ in Philadelphia: Try standing room at the MET, or the family circle, or the score desks on the top balcony. You can get the full MET sound at a really reasonable ticket cost.

Jul. 23 2013 04:00 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

No 'general' comments allowed on WQXR so I'll comment on what is effectively a troll post to get attention - since it's a repeat of past posts.

The "carousel" has an image of Barbara Cook that has her head cut off. If you give a flying fark about respect for opera singers or quality photography or even professional "press" photography you should be quite PO'd about the disdain for standard professional workmanship. You just don't crop an image and cut someone's head off. It's just not done.

And if it's done by third rate automated processes you should have professionals available to correct the bad robotics.

Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. Oh. Lets argue about volume selection instead of quality selection.

Jul. 21 2013 02:11 PM
John Yohalem from Sharon, VT

"No magic mike" -- Great title!
Needless to say, I agree with your argument.
The SENSUAL appeal of opera comes from exposure to the actual music-making, with no intrusive electronics.
True, acoustics vary. But we've all heard hundreds of singers who could fill the Met to the last row. If they don't know how, they don't know how.
Young theater singers no longer get operatic training (they used to!) and, I've noticed, they're afraid to sing in a 200-seat theater without a mike, usually a mike too loud for our ears, anyone for mine. That didn't take long! Broadway singers used to fill houses and make lyrics audible to the top tier unamplified! No more.
So we can't back down on this.
At Met Parks concerts I used to sit in the triangle between the speakers in order to hear the real voices, but they "improved" the speakers so now you can't avoid them, and I stopped attending.
At NYCO, singers sounded "off" and the orchestra tinny, and I stopped going unless it was an opera I did not know. No point going to hear a singer I wanted to hear, as there was no telling what you were hearing.

Jul. 19 2013 03:48 PM
beachsiggy from NYC

I was at the dress rehearsal (when I sat way down front) and several performances (when I sat in the back of the family circle) for the Met's Traviata, which began this discussion. At the dress, I noted that the sound was distorted when the singers (soprano and tenor) were at the rear of the stage. I had initially blamed this on the odd construction of the set, which resembles a highway or railroad sound barrier. From upstairs, however, I noticed the same distortion, and realized that they must be wearing mics. There appear to be speakers along the top of the back wall of the family circle, and it sure as heck sounded as though the sound might be coming from there. Of course, the Met auditorium has many distortions built into it, and the sound you hear can be totally different depending on what seat you are in.

I think amplification has no place in the opera house; when employing properly trained singers, there is no need for it. Too loud is painful, and destroys the fine balance of orchestra and voices.

Jul. 18 2013 10:22 AM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

While I would no go so far as Groucho Marx and say that "whatever it is, I'm against it", I am against the use of microphones in indoor opera performances (or even outdoor performances in venues designed for acoustic transmission of sound to smaller audiences). This is for the reasons stated by the other commentators, including the ones quoted in the column, but especially because of the utterly unmatched nature of the effect you can get from hearing a real voice, on its own, unenhanced by electronics, however subtle that enhancement is said to be. Part of this is because I have studied voice and performed without amplification for years, and know that it can be done. Part of this is because I would not want to hear opera houses ruined in the way that Broadway theaters have been ruined. There, in houses designed for performers who knew how to project, we know get overly loud, artificial sound blasting from the proscenium arch such that you often cannot visually match the voice with its source.
As to the perceptions of younger audiences, brought up on artificial sounds and low fidelity, my wife and I recently sang at a birthday party for a friend, a semi-rehearsed bit of a scene from Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Gondoliers". We heard feedback to the effect that some of the adolescents in the crowd were truly amazed, some never having heard this type of sound live, and not being aware that you could do this without microphones.
Let's not go down that road, Mr. Gelb!

Jul. 18 2013 08:52 AM
Baron Ochs from Dallas, TX

In an effort to reach the masses, I would agree with mikes on the singer only for the purpose of externally transmitted sound/broadcast. In the same breath, I would most certainly NOT endorse them in any shape or form to project the sound into the live house. That is one thing that would set, say Renee Fleming apart from Beyoncé. Renee (and all true opera singers) should have been trained to PROJECT into the house and be heard above all else or get off the stage. I was part of the HGO several years ago and in Brown Theater at the Wortham, the issue was raised by directors and almost always nixed. Maybe the practice of shifting the emphasis onto the pretty package the singer displays on stage and less attention to the voice has caused this. I also have issues with broadway shows that are miked. I was trained that when you're on the stage, fill the space and aim for that back balcony (think Dame Eva Turner).

Jul. 17 2013 02:54 PM
concetta nardone from Nassau

Microphones should only be used when acoustics are very poor. Such was the case for NYC Opera years ago. I want to hear the voice, warts and all. Mario Lanza was not singing years ago on a television appearance. He was miked in. Forgot the word for this. I caught this immediately because I spotted that his breathing was all wrong.

Jul. 17 2013 09:29 AM

At least in opera, there are likely not the dangers in wearing a concealed wire and "singing" that might be possible in other situations-but I would agree, (except for the few technical exceptions) that amplification does not touch one as the pure voice does-whether real or perceived.

As for the last question, Fred, if technology sparks the imagination and is true to the music and intent of the composer-an enhancement and not a distraction to the story-why ever not? I was transfixed by the beauty and power of the brilliant visual impact of SATYAGRAHA, just for one example. The technology seemed seemless and the visual after-image stayed with me long beyond the performance

Jul. 16 2013 09:54 PM
JonJ from Philadelphia

This is an argument that has been going on as long as recording as -- more than a century. In that century, recording and broadcasting technology has made tremendous advances, of course, but there is still a difference between "live" musical performance and "non-live" experience of music.

Classical music, including opera, has a much larger audience because of radio, satellite TV, and recordings than it could have without them, which is fine, but audiences need to be aware of the difference between live and non-live, and I am not sure that they always are. Years ago on a classical music email list, I was astounded to read someone suggesting that we no longer need to have musicians giving live concerts because everything worth listening to has been recorded!

One problem with opera, in particular, that has been alluded to by some commenters above is its cost. Though I live fairly close to New York, I doubt that I will ever hear the Met live because it's just too expensive for me. There are plenty of less expensive opera productions where I live, and I'm satisfied to hear the Met on radio (especially Internet radio). People just need to keep in mind that electronically mediated music is always second-best.

The worst opera broadcast experience I have ever had was the HD broadcasts of the Ring last year in a local movie theater with a horrible, excruciatingly loud sound system that was obviously designed for Hollywood explosion/car crash epics. Never again! Watching the "machine" operate was fascinating, but the sound was sheer torture.

Jul. 16 2013 09:30 PM
Harvey Steiman from San Francisco

Fred took great care to make a distinction between simply affixing a microphone to a singer for recording or broadcast purposes versus amplification, where the audience hears the sound signal from the mic rather than the singer's unamplified voice. In a good opera house, in my view, the only time amplification is appropriate is for offstage voices that would not be heard as well without it, or if the composer indicated that the amplification is necessary to balance with the orchestra, as is the case with some operas written in the past 30 or 40 years.

We all want to appreciate the unfettered sound of a human voice in a place with good acoustics. But not all venues where opera is performed fulfill this requirement. Some auditoriums distort, muffle or over-reverberate voice production, issues that can be more vexing than well-done amplification. The problem is that so much of it is done badly.

In 1996, while the War Memorial Opera House was undergoing its earthquake retrofit, several productions were done in the concrete-hard reverberant acoustic of the Civic Auditorium. Singing would have been unintelligible without amplification. It wasn't perfect, but I still recall the thrill of Ben Heppner's Lohengrin and a young Karita Mattila's Elsa, the earthy power of Olga Borodina's Carmen and the subtleties Jerry Hadley's Hoffmann. I have heard those voices in more appropriate conditions many times, and I'm here to tell you, they sounded terrific and surprisingly natural. The sound designers deserved applause, in my view, for the way they placed speakers and balanced the sound.

In her vocal concerts, the great Broadway and cabaret singer Barbara Cook uses amplification. She always finishes with one last song unamplified, the way she started out in the days when she sang Cunegonde in Bernstein's Candide. The intimacy and resonance of that experience is often the highlight of the evening. But it's always a quiet song with only piano accompaniment. Without amplification there's no way she could sing louder music in front of a band without amplification. With it, there are still many aspects to appreciate, such as phrasing, emphasis, diction, expression.

In the end, let's judge any performance on what we actually hear, not what we expect.

Jul. 16 2013 06:08 PM
NSW from NYC

I think the more relevant question involves defining opera.

If opera is a museum piece - meant to be unchanged in any capacity, and the vocalists will "park and bark" so that the audience can relish in their technical skill and musical sensitivity, then no, amplification is not appropriate.

If opera is a dynamic collaboration between musicians, directors, choreographers, set designers, costume designers, etc. - to make a truly captivating performance (i.e. gesamtkunstwerk), then using modern technology to help augment this experience is entirely valid.

Issues of "authenticity" in music are usually absurd. Nothing is "authentic." The sheer breadth of our musical knowledge and our access to an infinite amount of music at the touch of a finger make our ears the greatest deterrent to an "authentic" performance - because we can never hear it as "they did in olden days."

Oddly enough, people do not know how much goes into the "sound design" of an amplified performance. They assume that microphones are haphazardly placed and a person sits down at the sound board just fixing issues as they arise. They don't realize that a (good) sound designer will study the score, learn the hall, sit in on un-miked rehearsals, and then work with the artistic team to develop a plan for amplification. (Just to clarify, I am not a sound designer, but having worked with some very competent ones, I believe that they are often the most under-appreciated members of a team).

Jul. 16 2013 05:01 PM

The problem with being a purist in the arts is that nobody likes to pay for it. The purists are the same ones who grouse when the cost of their tickets go up, I find. Hey, those of you grousing about the use of microphones; if you can find a money tree to shake to keep the operatic arts alive without stuff like HD and radio broadcasts and therefore the use of mikes (which happens anyway, by the way; how do you think they heard Cecilia Bartoli at the Met all those years ago?), by all means do so, but those of us who aren't in a position to see the great artists perform without HD, we are really grateful for the chance to do so, miked or not. We'd thank you not to ruin it for us.

It doesn't matter anyway; the opera companies know what the financial reality is and aren't going to listen to the purists. HD is the future of opera, and it's one I'm intensely grateful for. My nearby opera organization knows full well how hard it is to interest people of a younger generation in this art form, and isn't prepared to let it die on the back of the people who complain about ticket prices as it is. Opera isn't a volunteer job, and I'm glad we finally have people who make reasonable, sensible compromises running the organizations and doing things to actively attract a younger crowd, who don't care whether there are mikes or not.

Jul. 16 2013 03:06 PM
Brunhilde from NYC

I'm sorry, I am not for fake opera singing. Sounds traveling through a microphone are not the same as singing free of electronic enhancement, control, and manipulation. Even the great voices, recorded for posterity, cannot compare to the live, unaltered sound they made. The artform of operasinging is highly technical in every aspect - from the voice itself to the "trappings" around it - orchestra, scenery, stage direction - and to rob it from its art is the same as lightening the background of a Rembrandt. If someone wants to buy a gold ring.....they're not going to settle for a steel one with a gold coating....I'm tired of non-musicians tearing apart this world of opera, from stage directors to management. Singers are afraid to say something for fear of management saying "bye - we'll find another one..." Opera is an unbelievable art form. Let it live. Let it be what it is. Don't meld it to suit the financial needs or the quirky needs of incompetents. And no, Suzanne, I disagree with you whole-heartedly. Those young people you talk about would be able to experience a new layer of life and art - one that might take them out of what they're used to.....oh heavens, could you imagine??

Jul. 16 2013 01:01 PM

Mikes have happened at the Met for such things for a long time. They used mikes for stuff before HD like when Fafner sings because he is in a full mask, etc.

If they are miking for HD and radio just because the broadcasts have become popular, so what? If this keeps the art alive, as every single opera house in the world is feeling the pinch of the recent global economy and the decline in ticket sales as opera audiences age, yadda, yadda, why quibble with it for the sake of purism? There are plenty of opera performances still to attend without mikes in the live setting. If this is a small accommodation to keep an amazing art alive and viable, simply because the younger generation otherwise is unlikely to be introduced to it, I am all for it. Beggars can't be choosers, and if we need to make accommodations to keep opera going, by all means do it and stop fussing about it unduly.

HD broadcasts have let us introduce a remarkable art to people who would otherwise know nothing and care nothing about it. Let's not fight the battle to lose the war. That'd be totally foolish.

Jul. 16 2013 11:49 AM
Bill Holt from Hamilton,NJ

Damrau did not appear in the Met in HD’s Traviata, Dessay did. Therefore, Damrau was mic’ed for radio or to “enhance” her projection in the house. Years ago, I always hated to see a production in the Met’s house with Barry Morell, because he did not have the oomph to fill it. So, we have the dilemma of good voices too small for some large venues.

What to do? Broadway has decided to mic the stars. It has become the national standard. I’ve seen productions in 400 seat theaters where everyone ran around with a very visible headset mic. I think that practice ridiculous. I’ve also seen You Tube productions in Hungary where the mic was encased in a flesh colored bubble on the singer’s forehead. So, one can say that the mic’ing trend seems universal.

Personally, I cannot say that my ear is so acute as to recognize the effects of a mic. I’ve seen people state that they can tell one computer recording file format from another just by ear. Wow, that’s far beyond what I can do or ever could even in my salad days.

Given choices, my first would be to hear singers who can fill the house naturally. My second choice would be to have singers such as Mr. Morell mic’ed. Last on my list would be to have singers who could not be heard in the house or who were being overwhelmed by their accompaniment not be mic’ed, if those singers had to be used.

Special note to Mike: MS Word’s spell check does not agree that Mic is a word and, to tell the truth, miced, micced and micing or Miccing look awfully weird to me. Those furry little critters are all over the place anymore!

Jul. 16 2013 11:22 AM
Leslie from Belfast, Maine

I remember back when I used to go to Broadway shows, with my parents. Oklahoma, Candid, Peter, Pan, West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Most Happy Fella,and many more. We also went to the old MET. No mikes, at least for the audience. These singer/actors knew how to sing and project.
Many years later, I returned to NYC and was excited to go to a Broadway show. Miked! I really hated the sound.

I began, after Many years without live opera, :-((, I went to a bunch of HD performances. While I enjoyed, laughed and cried along with everyone else, the sound coming from one source, the speakers, was not real. The sound and the camera work drove me back to the real thing 8 hours away(if there's no traffic or snow) There's nothing like it. And if anyone tells me that Ferruccio Furlanetto was wearing a microphone for No gemmai ma'mo in the performance I saw-- way up in the family circle, I'll have trouble believing it. The same ith Polanzani's Nemorino, the quietest pianissamo carried throughout that big barn of an opera house, at least up into the netherlands of the Family Circle.

I was just in San Francisco for three operas. Every voice in Takes of Hoffmann carried beautifully (yes, a smaller house) but the next night in Cosi fan tutte, the voices did not carry. A difference in singers and their tutors?

Jul. 16 2013 11:15 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

Obviously,the use of microphones is a necessity for broadcasting and recording, but they are nothing short of a violation of expectation for those in an audience. To use technology willy-nilly just because it's a reality undermines the composer's wishes, unless he or she writes for electronic instruments or specifies microphones should be used in their scores. Should the Priestess's solo that begins the second scene of Act I of "Ai"da" be amplified? What about the Celestial Voice in "Don Carlo"? Do you think Wagner expected that the Forest Bird in "Siegfried" would (or should) sound as loud as Fafner in his dragon guise? Ridiculous. And what about offstage bands in "Nabucco", "Rigoletto" or the revelers outside in Act III of "La Traviata"? I think the argument for use of microphones for live audiences is just as specious and ridiculous as the Chamber Music Socity of Lincoln Center opting to use microphones to amplify string quartets or the solo singer in Schubert's "The Shepherd on the Rock". Perish the thought!

Jul. 16 2013 10:57 AM
Michael Stoll from Cedarville, Michigan, the UP.

Hello Friends,

My nick name is Mike.

The nick name for Microphone is Mic.... Not Mikes.

There are not many of Me (Mikes) picking up sound these days...LOL

Thanks, Michael Stoll

Jul. 16 2013 09:50 AM
David MacDonald from Orlando, FL

This discussion seems, like many discussions in classical music, to be dominated by dogma. What difference does it make if a singer is amplified? I go to a performance to hear music. I go to an opera performance to both see and hear. You talk of "trust" as though there is some agreement between you and the performer that they won't "cheat." Music is not about winning and losing. Performing Puccini and Wagner are not feats of strength, they are expressive arts.

Also, implicit in your trust argument is the notion that you can't hear the difference unless you have been told beforehand that there will or won't be any amplification. This is not to impugn your ears or listening skills. Talented audio engineers are capable of making amplification very subtle and transparent. However, if you can't hear the difference, there is no difference! Music is made of audience-perceived sound. It's not notes on the page. It's not ideas in the composer's head. (I say that as a composer.)

There are many forms of operatic musical expression that have remained unexplored in major opera houses due to this bizarre electronics taboo. Sure, Verdi didn't have microphones, but we do! If we know how to use them well, why not use them? Verdi also didn't have electric lights. Should we stop using them as well? Motorized set pieces? Video projections? Bach didn't have pianos, therefore Bach's music should never be played on piano, right? Of course not. We should do all of these things and more. The tools with which a sound is produced does not matter a bit. They are a means to an end. Microphones and their accompanying devices are tools. There is room for creativity both with and without them.

Jul. 16 2013 09:13 AM
Sanford Rothenberg from Brooklyn

This topic has periodically been a subject for discussion.There has long been supposition as to whether certain (usually smaller)voices have been amplified,or otherwise enhanced at the MET,and other large houses.The singer most often presumed to have been "helped" in this manner was Kathleen Battle.Tommasini,by discovering the body mike on Damrau,caught the MET with their hand in the cookie jar,acoustically speaking.Clearly,we have not heard the last of this(pun intended).

Jul. 16 2013 01:19 AM

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