Notes from the Anakonda in Verona’s Lyrical Festival

IMG 8360With its gigantic dimensions of 140 metres in length and 110 metres in width, the Roman arena in Verona is internationally famous for its large-scale opera and theatre performances during the Festival season. Once capable of housing 20,000 patrons per performance (now limited to 15,000 because of safety reasons), the arena has featured many of the world's most notable opera singers, attracting over 500,000 people to see productions of popular operas every year.

2010 marked a pivotal year in the Arena's open-air opera when an electronic sound reinforcement system was installed. Up until then the opera productions had not used any microphones or loudspeakers.

The need for a better quality of sound had been noticeable for a long time.  There were acoustic problems normal for an open-air event; problems of sound and frequency loss, above all in the terraces surrounding the arena; problems that could easily be resolved by amplifying the voices and the instruments.

K-array, alongside production company Musical Box Rent which manages the technical services during the Festival season, were asked to provide the first ever sound system to be used in the Arena. Gianbattista Zerpelloni, Alessandro Tatini and Mario Di Cola (designer and sound engineer also involved in designing the system) got together to come up with the criteria for the new system: the PA needed  to have transparent sound reinforcement, increasing intelligibility and perception of detail, without detracting from the natural operatic performance. 

Thus, the OS-1 was born: a system so delicate that it could achieve this goal.

128 K-array KK50 Kobra speakers were planted at the foot of the stage, each connected to a microphone (Sennheiser’s ME36 model), a KA1-1 amplifier (customized for the Arena), in addition to 32 KU36 Rumble ultra slim, high power subwoofers for the base frequency: the system picked up the sound from the part of the stage nearest to the speaker while recreating the atmosphere and acoustics, without artificially increasing the sound pressure. 

“We tried to replicate what Vitruvius did (Roman architect, writer and engineer) but with today’s technology. The result is a sound system that you can hear, but not see: the sound reinforcement is not perceptible in terms of volume, only in terms of intelligibility, providing a transparent reinforcement of the acoustic sound coming from the stage.” Di Cola commented.

Now, with discreet K-array speaker technology, which can be programmed thanks to DSP, the timber and direction of the sound can remain faithful to the sound on-stage – adding only reinforcement and extended coverage, so that the sound quality is the same in all parts of the theatre. With the use of DSP, Mario is able to program each speaker to send sound waves directly to a precise section of the audience, causing every part of the arena to benefit from a full, natural resonance straight from the stage.

Like many experts that are powered by the quest for perfect sound, Di Cola wanted to take the system for this year’s festival up another notch to improve the sound reinforcement for the higher seats surrounding the arena: 10 KK200 and five KA10 amplifiers were installed in addition to ten KP102 Pythons. Launched at the beginning of 2013, 16 modules of the bendable Anakonda Kan200  were also installed. “The Anakonda quite literally offers a 'flexible' approach for getting sound into interesting places. Although the amphitheatre is over 2000 years old, its customized PA system needs to continue to reflect the coupling of art and avant-garde technology and the Anakonda is the first bendable loudspeaker to ever be produced”  Di Cola explained.

The system is so unique and has fired the pride of so many professionals that it made it in Sennheiser’s annual calendar.

Francesco Girondini, the superintendent from the Fondazione Arena di Verona, expressed his personal satisfaction in the sound system “from the beginning, the objective of the foundation has been to give Italian opera-lovers immeasurable pleasure from a lyrical and scenography stand point.  K-array speakers have succeeded in something which had never been attempted in lyrical-theatre before: providing a true-to-theatre sound coverage to an entire outdoor arena".

The Verona Lyrical Festival, a grand event in the world of classical theatre, can now reach a greater audience, thanks to Alessandro’s vision materialized in K-array speakers, Paolo Calza and Francesco Penolazzi from di Cola’s staff, Zerpelloni and Michele Arduini from Musical Box Rent along with their collaborators: Angelo Cremasco and Massimo Bignotti and last but not least Exhibo, K-array's Italian distributor.