Nevill Holt Opera runs a summer festival in a beautiful new theatre constructed on the site of the old stable block at Nevill Holt Hall. Their theatre seats 400, but during the covid pandemic in 2021, and with social distancing, this would have had to be reduced to less than 200, which would have made the festival completely unviable. So the team at Nevill Holt, led by Annie Lydford and Nic Chalmers, decided that being ambitious was a much better and exciting way to proceed, and planned their biggest festival ever, with increased audience capacity and more chances for people of all ages and incomes to experience great opera.
But to do that, it had to be outside! Which is where I became involved. I'd done various other outdoor events for Nevill Holt over the years, including being sound designer for Oliver Mears' brilliant production of Benjamin Britten's Noyes Fludde in 2017. In order to make the 2021 season work, we had to think big, and I engaged the services of Southby Productions, who are experts in the immersive audio d&b Soundscape system. After a lot of planning, a lot of zoom calls (it was during covid, after all!), and a lot of support from the team at d&b, we put on two shows in the summer - Verdi's La Traviata, and Mozart's Don Giovanni. Both were a huge success.
We used 81 loudspeakers in total, 66 for the audience and the remaining 15 to create a virtual acoustic shell for the orchestra, so that despite being spaced 2m apart in a giant tent, they felt as if they were playing in a concert hall. For the most part, the weather was kind, but we did do one show in the pouring rain - and the audience gave the (soaked) performers the biggest ovation of the season!
The other massive plaudit goes to sound designer Mark Rogers for the way in which the sound reached our ears such that it always appeared to come from whoever was singing, regardless of where they were (in reality, the sound was coming from the dozens of loudspeakers deployed in front of three separate lots of grandstand seating). It’s virtually impossible to amplify bel canto perfectly – the dynamic range between a pianissimo whisper and a soprano hitting a high note at full throttle is just too great – but the overall sound quality here was about as good as it gets. - David Karlin, Bachtrack
A big factor in the musical success of the performance was the sound-system used, so that the amplified sound tracked the singers and the whole felt, if not quite natural, very realistic. After a few minutes adjustment, you could forget that you were not listening to unamplified audio. - Planet Hugill