Report by Anne Minors, 9 June 2015


Anne Minors (convener)

Bob Essert

Sarah Booth

Linda Shanson

Jim Manganello

Iain La Bouchardiere

Oliver Zeffman

Ella Marchment

Mayou Trikerioti

Daniel Antao de Silva


What is a magical performance?

The space sets the tone or mood of the Opera

To be a magical performance the atmosphere often starts at the threshold of the building - the arrival and build up to the performance are important.

Three examples of magical performances were contributed:

Silent Opera, production of Orfeo in a warehouse in Canning Town. Despite the journey there being difficult and wet, the mood for the opera was set from the start and prepared the audience immediately for what was to come. Several different environments existed within one large space, with a live band. To balance the sound environment, the audience wear headphones without any sense of the acoustic space.

Several people discarded their headphones preferring to listen to the mix of sounds that resulted and the natural acoustic.

Hidden Beings took place at a Pumping Station next to a cemetery. Musicians ( Indian and western instruments) were hidden behind gravestones as were children singing.

With natural light, the setting was magical. However the balance between the quieter Indian instruments and western instruments was difficult to achieve in the open space.

Betrayal: a polyphonic crime drama by I Fagiolini mixed music by Gesualdo with contemporary dance in an industrial space. With complex music the distances between musicians and singers need to be within a close range to be together.

Balancing the Sound

A discussion about the location of the orchestra followed, and how for many operas, especially 19th and 20th century works, it is best to locate the orchestra in front of the action in a conventional way.

A composer will rise to the challenge of writing for a specific space and the location of musicians within the space, but there may need to be more rehearsal time for the musicians to learn to play together.

Indian instruments and piano, promenade performance without an orchestra pit in spaces with no boundaries. Harry Christopher of the Sixteen said he would like to do Purcell's Fairy Queen with different scenes in different spaces in a recent newspaper article. This would not be the same acoustic experience as singing live.

Magical Performances in Conventional Opera Houses

We then looked at comparative photos from the stage of 19th, 20th and 21st century opera houses are from a précis of a book of opera from vote photography. Everyone agreed that 19th century opera houses were magical spaces in themselves and that created the anticipation of the music.

The three 20th century examples in the book- Oslo, Lyon and Valencia were a similar horseshoe form, without the complex decoration.

Lyon Opera was identified as an opera house with extraordinary intensity especially in the arrival corridors, but that within the house itself, it has little sense of community between members of the audience. In discussing the difference between the horseshoe form and seeing who else is in the room and the cinema experience of serried rows facing one way, It was pointed out that cinemas today are attempting to develop a more friendly approach offering people meals beforehand and after the show. Cinemas with 200 people laughing together helps with the sense of community even if the relationship between seats is not so friendly as in an Opera house. Some people felt that they were quite content going to an opera without having to be aware of the rest of the audience. Having good sightlines was most important. Others wanted to feel part of a community and the human link between audience and stage.

The initiation of the audience entering the performance space is important, to go from meeting together in the foyers to be more immersive inside.

The importance of the foyer space - for meetings or to develop the ambience of the performance

Beyond the audience most opera houses are not good at using the foyer space for other things. The NT and South Bank foyers are used for meetings far more frequently than the foyers of ROH or ENO even though the latter are open to the public during the day. These are important places to develop community.

Feedback to the performers. Performers respond well to a space when they can hear themselves within it . Experienced opera singers find the sweet spot on stage. That helps to create the magic.

The materials for the set are important, whether it's metal, wood or fabric on stage. All of these materials can affect the acoustic. Floor rakes can be used to project the sound out to the audience.

Intimacy creates magic - small scale performances

Smaller venues such as the King's Head, Islington achieve intensity because of the close relationship to the singers- their energy is palpable.

Semi staged work

Can be acoustically better than fully staged but can be a big compromise. Use of simple sets is possible with similar direction to full production - eg Glyndebourne at the Proms.

For some people, minimal staging can be exhausting without any focus.


Most people felt it important to have a broad range of ticket prices which reflected the ability to see and offered the audience choice of view and set price. Cheap seats at the right price enabled enthusiasts to attend opera more regularly.


opera house, spaces