Friday, November 10, 2017

WMOHAW Syndrome

That would be: War Memorial Opera House Acoustical Weirdness Syndrome. Everybody seems to suffer from it from time to time.

For example, here's a bit from my account of the Elektra prima, back in September of this year:

Okay, so my reservations are largely nonmusical. But I made a mistake: I swapped my Dress Circle seat for Orchestra M, nearly dead center, which is the perfect location for hearing the orchestra, but voices tend to be more recessed there than when you're up above them. And, goddamn it, the voice most affected by this was Christine Goerke's, presumably because of its placement, dark color, and the tessitura of the title role, which lies more in the low and middle ranges.
The other singers came over well, and I am kicking myself for relocating to the orchestra rather than Grand Tier....or staying in my subscription seat. So I feel that I can't make a fully-informed comment on her performance, and, well, this is a frustration. I've heard her live multiple times and I know perfectly well that she's got a very large and well-projected voice, and I also know about the vagaries of the acoustics of the War Memorial Opera House.
No reviewer complained of problems hearing Goerke. It was, no doubt, my seat.

Here's Joshua Kosman, who was sitting for Manon in the reviewer section in audience left, probably around row H-N:
That sense was not always easy to come by in the face of an on-again, off-again role debut by soprano Ellie Dehn as Manon, a performance that alternated almost minute by minute between splendid, pointedly vulnerable vocalism and recessive vagueness. Also not helpful were the visually barren, dramatically off-point production of director Vincent Boussard and set designer Vincent Lemaire, and the brusquely athletic musical direction of conductor Patrick Fournillier.
[paragraph praising Fabiano]
Dehn, meanwhile — a singer who has done excellent work here in not-quite-starring roles — flickered on and off unpredictably. Through much of Act 1 she sang so inaudibly that one might have thought she was “marking,” husbanding her vocal resources as singers do during rehearsals. 
For Manon, I was in my usual subscription seat, which is more or less dead center in the Dress Circle. I'm under the overhang, but just a bit. I heard every note Dehn sang. She was always perfectly audible, at every dynamic level.

Then there was Les Troyens. Both Greg Freed and I had issues hearing Anna Caterina Antonacci in the first performance, but up to a point, she came over perfectly well - Steven Winn, sitting three rows ahead of me, found her quite audible.

The fact is, the War Memorial Opera House has some dead spots, some live spots, some places with echoes. If you are too close to one of the walls in the orchestra section, yes, you hear the orchestra, especially, bouncing off the walls. I never comment on the balances in the works I review, because I know I'm not getting the best possible sound from the reviewer section.

Generally, the sound and balances are best from the center and above the floor, though the Orchestra section can be fabulous; the orchestra itself almost always sounds splendid from orchestra center, around row M to R. But Joshua's review of Manon and mine of Elektra certainly show the vagaries of the house.


Michael Strickland said...

If I want to be sure of hearing great sound at the War Memorial Opera House, it's always Balcony Standing Room. Plus, your chances of running into the Opera Tattler, score in hand, are better than 50-50.

CruzSF said...

I was at Manon last night in Dress Circle, Row D, near a center aisle, and had no problem hearing Dehn or anyone else. In fact, Dehn and Fabiano sounded so much louder than I've heard them before, I wondered if the design of the set had an amplifying effect on the singers. I see now that must not be the case since other audience members are still reporting dead spots.

I've slowly climbed my way up to this subscription seat over the years. I guess I'd better hold on to it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I've made it to Dress Circle Row B very close to center and I am hanging on for dear life to that seat!

I am sure that the set had an amplifying effect, though I've heard Fabiano from various locations without any difficulties.