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Henning Larsen Architects - Opera in Copenhagen: Planning Print E-mail
Monday, 12 January 2009 02:23

HLT_Operaen_001.jpg This is a follow-up article to Opera Copenhagen , please read original article first.

Opera Copenhagen: Theatre planning and stage technical installations

The new Opera building combines classic forms with modern ideas to create a fully functional space for the staging of opera, ballet and other lyric presentations.  Described by experienced visitors even before it’s completion as ‘absolutely stunning’ this opera house is set to take its place high in the list of great performing arts buildings in the world.

The horseshoe-shape main auditorium seats 1472 with a normal size of orchestra pit, has three balcony levels and provides an intimate space and good contact with the stage and orchestra from all seats. Great care was taken during the planning of each tier and with the placing of each row and seat to ensure comfort, good acoustics and excellent sightlines. 

Particular attention was paid to each of the side seats. There are also 100 standing places.

The planning of the stages reflects the requirements of heavy European opera and ballet played in repertoire.  Taking advantage of the space available on the site on Dock Island the Opera is laid out with six stages, all at the same level.  These are the main stage with both side stages and a rear stage, and a separate fit-up stage adjacent to the scene dock.  The sixth space is a full scenic rehearsal stage.
The stage wagon system uses drive pinions in the floor which rise to engage in racks mounted in the underside of the wagons.  The wagons move at floor level in ‘canals’ formed by the lowering of equaliser elevators in their path.  A full set of equalisers is provided throughout the stage support areas ensuring all the stage areas can be at the same level and that no scenery or other equipment has to be lifted onto the wagons during fit-ups.

A purpose-built ballet floor is stored under the rear stage and can be driven out onto the four lowered main stage elevators and raised to stage level, thus providing a rapid changeover between opera and dance.  A 15 metre diameter revolve is integrated into a further special full-size stage wagon which can be split into two rectangular wagons, further extending the considerable flexibility of the overall stage floor systems. Fully built sets with a height of 11 metres (36’-1”) can be moved on a stage wagon system throughout the six stages.

HLT_Operaen_016.jpgThe main stage elevators are double-deck units but employ an additional refinement. The lower platforms are able to be raised and lowered independently within the elevator structure. This allows good access to traps, effects equipment and actor’s elevators when raised, and the construction of a complete scene within the elevator when they are at the maximum depth of 5 metres (16’-5”).  The elevators themselves each travel from 5 metres below stage to 5 metres above, providing extensive opportunities for complex levels and scenic usage in settings for operas produced in house.

The proscenium zone has been conceived as an integral part of the auditorium.  In order to allow the staging of smaller operas from the existing repertoire as well as new major works, the opera portal can reduce to a minimum of 12 metres (39’-4”) in width and 7.5 metres (24’-7”) in height.  The opera portal carries a full double-level lighting bridge and can open to 16 metres (52’-6”) wide and 11 metres (36’-1”) high.  The structural opening to the stage is masked by an architectural proscenium which can be similarly adjusted to reduce the amount of the portal which is visible.  The architectural proscenium can provide a maximum opening 17 metres (55’-9”) wide x 12 metres (39’-4”) high.  The scene can be masked by a decorative cloth designed by Per Arnoldi, behind which is a house curtain that allows all three motions; flying, drawing and swagging. 

The fly tower is 30 metres (98’-5”) to the underside of the grid and has a modern power flying system providing 100 flying bars at 200 mm (8”) centres and 24 point hoists all controlled by a number of portable control stations.  THLT_Operaen_033.jpghe bars each have a capacity of 450 kg (990 lbs) at 1.8 metres/second (5’-11” per sec) or 900 kg (1,980 lbs) at a reduced speed of 900 mm/second (2’-11” per sec).  The point hoists can carry 250 kg (550 lbs) at full speed or 500 kg (1100 kg) at half speed.  All bars and points can be operated together in groups and in various types of synchronisation. 

To minimise the obstruction caused by a cyclorama, this is a rolling type and has been installed with the storage cone downstage of the portal.  So as not to eliminate downstage entrances and also to allow quick access onstage when the cyclorama is deployed, the whole installation can be raised about 4½ metres (14’-9”).  The cyclorama cloth is deployed and wound back onto the storage cone at this height.  Quick direct access to the stage under the raised cyclorama is available for technicians and performers reducing scene change time and minimising the possibility of damage.

While the Opera will be used for opera and ballet performances in repertoire, provision has also been made for other productions and touring shows.  An example is the overstage lighting which is hung on frames clamped to selected flying bars. A group of four bars provides a payload of 3.2 tonnes which accommodates the frames, fittings, dimmers and switching.  To maximise the efficiency of power distribution, raw power, DMX and Ethernet is fed to each set of frames from proprietary cable windlasses that operate in synchronisation with the group of hoists.  The lighting frames, or others for another production, can be hung on alternative bars and the windlasses moved to align with them.  Full provision is made on all galleries and auditorium balconies for lighting fittings and a special technical gallery and ceiling gallery provide the main front-of-house positions.  Four follow-spots are accommodated in a central enclosed space above the top tier of the auditorium.

HLT_Operaen_029.jpgThe planning also took account of the delivery of scenery, properties, costumes, instruments and equipment.  The Opera will be used by the Royal Theatre in conjunction with their existing theatres in Kings Square and much interchange between their stages is envisaged.  Scenery and costumes will be made outside and delivered as and when required by the repertoire.  Although not yet installed, provision has been made for scenery to be stored off-site on pallets in containers and for these pallets delivered to a mechanised repertory store under the rear stage.  This and the Studio Stage on the first floor are served by a large scenery lift which connects the scene dock with rear stage when at stage level. 

The Studio Stage provides a very flexible space for around 200 people.  These can be accommodated on retractable seating and on both lower and upper levels of moving balcony units that can be moved and repositioned on air bearings.  The room can be set up in some 13 different standard formats which allow intimate spaces for chamber opera, dance, recitals, lectures and a range of special works.  The technical installations overhead include both bar and chain hoists mounted above a tensioned-wire grid for suspension of scenery, masking and lighting.  The grid panels can also be lifted out if required to allow scenery to be raised into the grid space.

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