May 28, 2014, by PSW Staff
Located in the heart of the city’s theater district, the historic Boston Opera House is known as one of New England’s most architecturally and aesthetically impressive theaters. Opened in 1928 as B.F. Keith Memorial Theater, it has hosted scores of classic productions over its 86-year history and saw a $50 million renovation in 2004.
The majority of the space’s annual 200-plus-show calendar is filled by the Boston Ballet and touring musical theater productions hosted by Broadway in Boston (recent and upcoming shows include Book of Mormon, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Motown the Musical, Newsies, Kinky Boots and more). The seating areas are expansive, with 2,645 total seats and 1,303 in the balcony alone.
The theater’s owners wanted to ensure that touring productions would have the ability to deliver vocal clarity in the wide mezzanine and balcony, so steps were taken to install a sound reinforcement system serving that area of the venue (the main floor dress circle and part of the mezzanine would continue to be served by touring sound reinforcement systems). After an audition process, those involved chose RoomMatch arrays from Bose Professional Systems to provide clear, even coverage to the balcony of the venue.
Boston Opera House production manager Mike Marchetti was leaning toward a system from a different manufacturer; however, he was persuaded by colleagues to hear a demo of RoomMatch. After the demo and an A/B shootout on site with his original choice, Marchetti was convinced.
The system was installed by Sudbury, MA-based Adtech Systems, which had already employed Bose RoomMatch and PowerMatch components in several other installations, including Rondileau Center Auditorium at MA-based Bridgewater State University, Nevins Hall in Framingham, MA, University of Rhode Island’s Edwards Auditorium; Thompson, CT’s High Pointe Church; and others.
The system, installed under the supervision of Adtech sales engineer Charles Crane, includes two RoomMatch arrays, with each array consisting of one RM5505, two RM7010s, one RM12010 and one RM12020 module, along with eight RMU208 small-format foreground/fill loudspeakers for under-balcony and “shadow-killer” fill.
Power is supplied by four Bose PowerMatch PM8500N 8-channel amplifiers, and processing is handled by a Bose ControlSpace ESP-00 engineered sound processor. Other components included a full complement of cables, loudspeaker and line-level patch panels, XLR jumpers, etc., from Whirlwind.
Marchetti states, “Vocal clarity is very important for the type of performances held here, and it was difficult to achieve for some touring systems, especially in the balcony areas. And most notably for productions that have a lot of speech or sung text in dialect – like Dublin accents in Once, or Ugandan accents in Book of Mormon, or rural British in Billy Elliott and such.
“After I had a demo of a RoomMatch system, I was convinced that it provided the right solution for clear balcony coverage, and it fit well within our budget. When we did the actual A/B shootout at our venue, I invited several of my colleagues whose opinions I trust to be involved in the listening evaluations—these included Steve Colby, audio engineer for the Boston Pops Orchestra; Bradley S. Berger, director of production at Berklee College of Music, Rick Brenner, sound designer for the Boston Ballet; James Jensen, executive director for the Boston Opera House; and Rich Jaffe, president of Broadway in Boston, to name a few.
“I must admit, I was skeptical at first, but after my mind was made up, I started telling others throughout the industry how impressive the RoomMatch system is. And since the installation, my fondness for the system has grown stronger.”
Crane adds, “I was very pleased that the system specified was RoomMatch system, as I have recently employed RoomMatch and PowerMatch components in several installations in our area.
“For example, at the University of Rhode Island’s Edwards Auditorium, RoomMatch solved a problem, as their existing system was not covering every seat. In the Boston Opera House application, RoomMatch not only increased coverage but it bolstered speech intelligibility by a significant margin.”
Crane also notes that a unique aspect of the project was matching the color of the theater’s golden/beige décor and painting the Bose modules to match.
“Beyond that,” he states, “things went very smoothly, and the crew at Boston Opera House helped with much of the installation. We had strict instructions to keep the architecture intact due to the historical nature of the building, but there were two holes that had been drilled for a special presentation of Phantom of the Opera years ago.
“We lucked out, because they were in the exact right spots for our purposes to hang the system,” he continues. “Once the system was up, it required minimal tuning or tweaking to dial in the audio perfectly.”
Marchetti also lists the unique challenges of providing sound reinforcement for a variety of genres in a large theater: “If a popular music artist is touring and the sound isn’t getting to the right spots in the venue, the FOH mixer simply adjusts the mix to compensate for the lack of clarity or definition.
“But Broadway productions are more complicated. They’re governed by what the show’s sound designer has specified for the overall sound of the show. We have also found that most touring productions are not capable of covering our large balcony with their systems.
“But now with the Bose RoomMatch system in place, it’s no longer a problem,” he adds. “The dispersion patterns that Bose offers are extremely specific, so it was not a challenge to put together exactly the right configuration for our needs. And the response has been enthusiastic from both audience and touring sound engineers. It’s a success all around.”