Opera in Copenhagen: Accoustic Design Print
Monday, 12 January 2009 02:36

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

The acoustic design of the Opera provides excellent conditions for the production, rehearsal and performance of opera and ballet.

The main auditorium, with which the musical director Michael Schønwandt and the Opera Director Kasper Holten are delighted, includes a very flexible orchestra pit.

Elevators allow 3 pit sizes and there is the option to use overhung areas at the sides and rear of the pit. These areas can be closed off with acoustical panels, which can be reversed to provide local sound absorption or reflection.

A modular orchestra pit rail allows for acoustic transparency or reflection so that the sound from different sections of the orchestra may be more easily balanced.

The geometry of the room surfaces in the main auditorium has been carefully designed to direct sound from stage and pit such that a fine blend of clarity and room response is experienced at all locations.  HLT_Operaen_020.jpgThe detailing of the room finishes has been developed with the architects, Henning Larsens Tegnestue, to provide a visually harmonious solution to the requirements for geometrical shaping, sound transparency and sound scattering, as necessitated by the acoustic needs. 

Larger surfaces are ‘broken up’ with recesses to help reduce strong sound reflections and the balcony fronts, each one different, are shaped to help strengthen the sound from the stage.  Although based upon a ‘lightweight’ gypsum board construction, the room finishes provide sufficient mass to reflect the bass frequencies, resulting in a warm sound that is often lacking in opera houses where thin panelling dominates.  The golden ceiling that crowns the auditorium is gently convex in both sections to spread the sound reflections over a wider area.  The ventilation and house lighting noise is imperceptible, creating a room that can support the widest dynamic range possible from orchestra and singer.

The auditorium is provided with a motorised variable sound absorption, with pre-sets controlled by the main stage manager’s control panel and software. Extensive areas of fabric banners can be extended into the auditorium to reduce the room response for electronic operas, musicals and ballet with amplified soundtracks.
HLT_Operaen_018.jpgA musical instrument elevator travels from the side of the orchestra pit directly to the full size orchestral rehearsal room. This room is located immediately below the auditorium so, like many of the main acoustically important spaces within the opera, it is constructed as a box-in-box to maximise the sound insulation between the two spaces. The rehearsal room has its own control room and a variable acoustic system which can be used to make the room acoustic more analytical and to tune the space to give a similar room response for different ensemble sizes. In addition to the variable acoustic system, on the walls and the ceiling there is a carefully designed array of tuned low frequency sound absorbers, sound scattering devices and broadband sound absorption.  This complex system of acoustic components is visually screened by the beautiful wall lining and a feature wavy ceiling created from timber strips.  Exceptionally low noise levels from ventilation and lighting and the high degree of sound insulation from adjacent spaces make the room highly suitable for recording as well as rehearsal.

The third space to have pre-set controlled variable acoustics is the 200 seat studio theatre space known as ‘Takelloftet’. This is a flexible room, both theatrically and acoustically, and is readily adjustable so that all forms of performance from chamber opera and jazz to classical recital and amplified music can be accommodated.  The room has retractable seating and a set of small towers that may be moved around on air-castors to form additional seating or a stage shell as necessary.

HLT_Operaen_033.jpgThe main stage, connected to the main auditorium through a variable architectural proscenium, is one of 6 stages that will be used for set building, storage and rehearsal.  A system of wagons enables transfer of whole stage sets between these six stage areas.  In the rear stage left area is a rehearsal stage, separated from the noise of construction in the rear stage by two huge movable walls.  Here it is possible to rehearse on a complete stage set without disturbance from other spaces. Attention has been given to noise control of the theatre machinery systems: the wagons can float silently across the stage; the scenery can be noiselessly flown in and out and the main stage elevators are probably the quietest yet installed in an opera house.   

Above the stages are two floors of rehearsal rooms.  Many of the rehearsal rooms are constructed as a ‘room within a room’ to minimise noise disturbance from adjacent spaces.  There is a dedicated chorus rehearsal room, ballet studios, an opera rehearsal room and numerous instrumental practice and vocal coaching rooms.  The slatted architectural finish again hides the sound absorption and installations, and sound scattering walls are expressed in a zig-zag form. Structurally isolated double glazing helps maintain the sound insulation from occupational noise within the building.  The high quality craft traditions of Denmark have enabled unusually high standards of sound insulation to be achieved throughout the Opera, to enable parallel activities without mutual disturbance.
Throughout the building the complex acoustic requirements have been rationally integrated into the Henning Larsens Tegnestue’s design in a way that makes the acoustic elements appear to be intrinsic to the room architecture.  The result is a technically demanding but beautiful building that is crafted to provide world class facilities to the highest acoustic standards.

Rob Harris
Parkin House
8 St. Thomas Street
Hampshire SO23 9HE
United Kingdom

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Last Updated on Monday, 12 January 2009 02:47