Thirteen years ago Roman Polanski’s cult ’60s horror movie Dance Of The Vampires was turned into a musical and premiered here, in Vienna, with music by Jim ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ Steinman. It seems he can’t keep away from the dark side, or perhaps his forte is simply anything that turns out to be a pain in the neck.
That aside, the theatre in which his work is now transfixing audiences once again has been through many changes. The Ronacher Theatre first opened in 1872, and went through several incarnations from burlesque to TV studio before reinvention as a modern musical theatre – albeit one still clinging to belle epoque historicist pretensions. Perfect, in fact, for the defiantly grandiose filth of the aristocratic undead.
Tanz der Vampire duly reopened in September 2009. “When the theatre reopened there was absolutely no acoustic treatment,” reveals Matthias Reithofer, head of sound. “You could get away with it for many shows, but for Dance Of The Vampires you need to deal with much higher volume levels. So we’ve mounted a whole series of acoustic foils along the back of the stalls to reduce the reflections that come from the curve of the back wall. Whenever you have a curve you get these hot spots, because the reflections always converge on a focal point somewhere in the audience.”
The other major enhancement involves 96 loudspeakers from APG, along with a Stagetec Aurus console, Nexus routing and Lab.gruppen amps. “The central, downfill pair of SMX15s provides a centre image,” explains Reithofer, “and like them we’ve coupled two SMX15s either side on the proscenium to make an A-B system: two equal systems where one half of the orchestra and one half of the cast is routed to one speaker system and the other half to the other. The important thing is to avoid the phase cancellation you can get when summing microphones that are very close to each other, so the best thing is no summing at all. It takes a lot of capacity because you need twice as many busses and twice as many matrix outputs, which is why we’re using the Aurus.
“Almost the whole system is A-B, in fact: the delays, the front-fills and the side-fills. Only the stage monitoring and the surround speakers are one single system; the surround effects are not critical enough to adopt this technique. But for the orchestra it’s very effective. Take two violins next to each other, for example: we can route the pickups to one system and the overhead mic to the other, so we don’t have phasing between the overhead and the pickups.”
Each pair of SMX15s is therefore acting as one speaker, rather than the same signal being sent to two with possible phasing consequences. For uniformity the same model is used throughout, apart from the subwoofers, a pair of DS8 drumfills to place the drum and percussion images firmly towards the orchestra pit and a host of MX1s for the front-fills, side-fills and delays.
More SMX15s ring the balconies to create the main triangular image. On stage, seven MX1s per side act as sidefill monitors using the full depth of the platform as far as the final backdrop. Using the console’s auxiliary busses to the full, monitor mixes track the choreography and are delivered to the cast on a scene-by-scene basis.
Some musicals have taken to sealing the orchestra pit to create an almost studio-like isolation booth for the band, but Reithofer is averse to going this far. “The best orchestra pit is an open pit,” he says, “and even so we’ve had to cover half of it here to bring the stage closer to the audience. I want to hear the woodwind, the strings and the brass live in the auditorium. We already have a separate room for the drums, percussion, guitar and bass, so it’s a compromise that tries to achieve the best of both worlds. Usually, the smaller the ‘box’ you put instruments into, the poorer the sound.”
“It’s a very wide venue, more of an arena than a theatre,” Reithofer adds, “but while people accept visibility restrictions they won’t, of course, tolerate poor sound! There has to be sound everywhere, and there has to be good sound everywhere…”