Soundscape makes its UK opera debut.

A historic meeting between East and West during the Cold War is captured in the opera ‘Nixon in China’. The opera captures a seminal moment in history - US President, Richard Nixon’s meeting with Mao Tse-tung in 1972, an encounter which has been dubbed ‘The week that changed the world’.

Premiered in 1987 the production saw a revival this year with a short run of performances in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Sound design duties were fulfilled by Cameron Crosby who utilized the d&b Soundscape, making this the first outing of Soundscape for opera in the UK.

Sound design as an imperative factor

Scottish Opera, the largest performing arts organisation in Scotland, is renowned for delivering the best possible show in every aspects including, of course, sound. To that end, the involvement of a professional Sound Designer was a prerequisite from the composer and producers to mount the show.

Crosby’s design resulted in a hybrid system composed of the d&b Soundscape in combination with a stereo system.  “My aim when designing sound for opera is to deliver a result that sounds clarified rather than amplified. I always strive to maintain the image of the performers on the stage, wherever the listener is located,” he explains.

As a long term d&b user I was aware of Soundscape and believed that it would allow me to do this by locating the aural image of each performer in the XY axis.Cameron Crosby, Sound Designer

Soundscape takes opera back to its unamplified roots


The d&b Soundscape can be used to create the feeling of hearing a show unamplified, rather than through a loudspeaker. By matching the image on stage with the location of the sounds heard, it is possible to reconnect the eye, ear and brain and overcome a sensory conflict we have grown accustomed to since the introduction of stereo sound reinforcement.

The Soundscape system Crosby designed consisted of E8s as front fills, which made up the primary sound reinforcement system, with delay rings of E4s and E5s located under the balconies. Upstairs Y10s gave the audience the same immersive feel provided by the E8s downstairs. The stereo system was used to amplify the orchestra in the pit. E12s and B6 Subs generated a natural sound for the orchestral part of the opera. “I wanted the sound of the pit to emanate from the pit and nowhere else. That’s what you expect in opera and I did not see the need to tie this into the Soundscape system, so a hybrid system was appropriate,” Cameron explains. “We used Soundscapes En-Scene software (software module for object-based signal management) and it had a stunning effect. It locked the aural image of the performer to the visual image of the performer, which is exactly what I had hoped for. The result is a completely natural experience.”

Scottish AV company and d&b sales partner FE Live supplied and set up the system and share Crosby’s view of natural sound being the deciding factor for choosing Soundscape.Ian Murray, Project Manager commented:

Soundscape was the perfect deployment for Nixon in China. Being an operatic show its integral to keep it sounding natural and un-altered. By using multiple small boxes we could achieve a clear and consistent sound for every seat, but also achieve the imaging of the principles on stage, without sounding amplified.Ian Murray, Project Manager

This was Crosby’s and FE Live’s first use of Soundscape with all attending training at d&b in the UK to prepare for the project. In addition the GB EAS team was on hand with support throughout. “The training I had been to in Nailsworth allowed me to understand the technical requirements and allowed me to design an ArrayCalc which I sent to d&b GB for assessment. They looked at my design and read my description of how I wanted to use Soundscape and helped me where needed. It’s been great working with the technology and with d&b.” Douglas Crabb, Operations and Accounts Manager at FE Live agrees: “Being new to Soundscape, it was great to be able to lean on d&b for support and training. d&b did a great job in helping us to think through the project and iron out any issues in advance, which meant during the installation and the run of the shows our team was able to fully focus on delivering the vision of Cameron and Scottish Opera.”

When asked what feedback Crosby had from the production and the audience, it was unanimous:

It was a fabulous result. The client was delighted, and many members of the audience stopped at the mix position after the shows to comment very positively about the ‘clarification’ and how they could hear the diction of the performers.Cameron Crosby, Sound Designer
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