I just talked to Gerard Patacca, orchestral manager at the AOBO. He wanted to clarify a few things. First, string numbers: the orchestra is playing with 12 10 8 8 6 for Die Tote Stadt. Usually they do Verdi, Puccini and, say, Carmen, with 11 9 7 7 5 and early Verdi with 10 8 6 6 4. It would not be unusual to have 12 10 8 8 6, depending on the wind / brass.
Second, he was keen to point out the origin of the idea, which is more complicated than just the pit being too small. They considered putting the orchestra at the back of the Opera Theatre stage but, amongst other problems, the sound would have trouble getting out. Then Christian Badea suggested putting the orchestra elsewhere. Gerard managed the YouTube Symphony Orchestra when it was in Sydney. They rehearsed in the Studio for a week, and did broadcasts from there, so he knew it was a good orchestral space.
This idea then opened the doors to other possibilities – use of all sorts of wacky technology, extension of the stage, use of the understage etc. Not all of the possibilities were used, but the concept of presenting Korngold as a film composer was a key part of the artistic vision, and the piped in sound was to be part of the cinema experience.
At this point I have to say I still find the link between piped music and film scores and cinema experiences tenuous. I see what Bruce Beresford is getting at, but I’m going to live theatre for a reason – I like LIVE theatre.
That said, making this technology work as well as they have done does open up a world of potential for opera presentation and that, in the end, is the whole point of the experiment. So bravo, Opera Australia. I can’t wait to see where you go next.
P.S. Gerard says playing in the pit is ‘exciting and liberating for the orchestra’. For once, they can play the dynamics marked in the score, they’re not deafened and they’ve got space to swing any number of cats.