Italy’s RAI broadcasts Verdi’s Rigoletto worldwide and in HD from the original locations, writes Mike Clark. Following the highly successful version of Tosca from Rome (1992) and Traviata from Paris (2000), Italy’s state broadcaster RAI and Andrea Andermann recently produced a live film of the opera Rigoletto. Broadcast on Mondovision to 138 countries, the production featured Placido Domingo in the title role of the court jester.
Alongside director Marco Bellocchio, triple Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro (cinematography) and conductor Zubin Mehta, RAI fielded an impressive array of men and machines to handle the challenges involved in providing HD coverage of the opera from four different locations in Mantua, the original setting of Verdi’s masterpiece.
The orchestra played in the Bibiena Theatre, while the cast performed each of the three acts in a different set, so all four had to be connected to the OB facilities (which recorded for DVD release). They also required a faultless two-way monitor system to ensure impeccable sync.
A combination of fibre optics (exploiting the town’s underground network for the longer runs), wireless and hard-wired back-up connections was used. The complex audio set-up was the responsibility of RAI Radio sound engineers and technicians recruited from the broadcaster’s Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin branches. One team was permanently based in the theatre, mixing RAI’s 62-piece National Symphonic orchestra on a Stagetec Cantus console, while the other group moved between the three main locations, Palazzo Te, the Duke’s Palace and Rocca Sparafucil. Each of these sites had a control room hosting a Yamaha M7CL on which the solo singers’ voices were mixed, before being fed to a DM2000, on which the chorus and effects were mixed and the orchestra stereo mixdown added. The final stereo mix was then sent to OB vans parked alongside. The trucks’ Stagetec Aurus console combined this with the production’s intro and credits and a short filmed sequence and sent the final feed to the sat uplink.
All four control rooms recorded the audio on a main Apple Logic Studio system and a pair of Alesis HD24 as backup devices. As well as being used for the production of a DVD of the opera with 5.1 audio, the recordings assisted the engineers in fine-tuning their settings in breaks between rehearsals.
RAI production manager Claudio Fizzardi says: “This was definitely one of the most challenging productions I’ve done in over 30 years with RAI. One of the main difficulties we had to solve was the elimination of signal delay caused by the equipment. Our team managed to reduce this to a few milliseconds, which was acceptable.”
Although Fizzardi began working with RAI as a sound engineer, in this case RAI Radio’s audio project chief was Tony Ciano, who says: “Each of the 12 solo singers had a pair of Sennheiser SK 5212-II bodypack transmitters (on two different frequencies to ensure redundancy) and Sennheiser MKE 1 wireless mics. The chorus was covered with approximately 15 mics carefully hidden on them: a combination of Sennheiser (MKH 416) and Schoeps models (CCM 4, CCM 21 and CMC 6 + MK41).”
To ensure greater focus, a ‘mic man’ – a musician wearing a pair of MKE 1 on the shoulders of his costume – had the important job of moving around the chorus to further reinforce its voices when necessary.
The risks of radio frequency problems causing drop-out was eliminated by Dino Tedesco of RAI Way, who was in charge of frequency co-ordination. However, hard-wired chorus and ambient mics posed an even greater problem, as Ciano explains: “Some of the rooms had reverb problems, but we could use very few acoustic treatment drapes, as they had to be kept out of the 15 cameras’ sightlines, as was the case with the mics, which were hidden behind statues, under chairs and on window frames.”
Mixer, the rental firm in charge of on-site sound, had the difficult role of providing monitoring for the orchestra, conductor and singers and had the same problem, but in addition, had to avoid sound being picked up by the chorus mics. The speakers chosen for the areas of the sets in which the action took place were K-Array’s ultra-slim Kobra KK100 and KK50 arrays with relative KA amps, whereas the zones in which the singers only transited had a combination of JBL Control 1 and SRX712, powered by Crown 1200 and 2400 amps.
In the theatre, a Yamaha PM5D desk was used to feed audio to the Aviom 16 and AD Ware Easy Listening personal monitor systems used by the musicians. The three sets had a total of four Yamaha desks: two DM1000, a 02 and a 03.
After the three broadcasts, which went off really smoothly and were presented by Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano, Ciano enthused: “As well as the top artistic talents involved, this has been an excellent ‘visiting card’ for RAI’s broadcasting skills, and the next in the series – Rossini’s La Cenerentola – is already scheduled for next June from Turin’s Venaria Reale."