Visionary Theatre - An Opera House, Countless Stars, And An AURUS-Based OB Truck
St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre is one of Russia’s most prestigious venues, with a remarkable history that goes back all the way to 1860. Now, however, modernism has arrived – with an annex designed by a top architect and its own OB vehicle with an audio control room equipped with State-of-the-art technology
In its long history, the distinguished house has already seen countless premiere performances of operas and ballets. More recently, it has attracted international attention with star soloists such as Anna Netrebko and Olga Borodina. Now a refurbishment, and the construction of an adjacent new building, will take the pressure off the main stages which have long been much too small. After the completion of this project, musical excellence will be assured into the future. Until then however, the Mariinsky Theater will stay closed to the public, forcing the ensemble to tour the world with its latest productions.
Against this backdrop, Valery Gergiev, renowned visionary artistic director of the State Academic Mariinsky Theatre, came up with the idea of purchasing an OB Truck for the theatre to enable it to record its touring performances and produce its own DVDs based on the material thus acquired. A nice option, he considered, would be the possibility of transmitting the recordings to St. Petersburg to allow the local audience to follow the performances on gigantic screens.
First The Sound…
Designing the Mariinsky OB truck proved to be a very exciting project. The emphasis was firmly on pristine audio quality, with the video component – although planned to be undertaken in the HD format – in a supporting role. This priority is evident when you look at the exceptionally large control room, the biggest ever designed for an OB truck by system integrator Sony Professional Services UK. It occupies around a third of the OB truck’s interior space, the remaining two thirds being dedicated to video control and video editing.
The audio and mixing technology was supplied by STAGETEC to meet the most exacting audio standards. The 48-fader AURUS console was installed lengthways in the truck. When the truck’s two sides are extended, the audio control room is almost fi ve metres deep, providing ample space for optimum positioning of the 5.1 speaker system. The fully-loaded AURUS console contains seven DSP cards with enough processing power for all the channels needed to record and mix in the surround format.
Live And Without Downtime
Given the focus on the audio aspect, at the planning stage a great deal of emphasis was placed on the reliability of the audio system. With its 376-to-280 matrix, the comprehensive NEXUS audio network was designed for fully redundant operation. To this end, each Base Device contains two optical cards to provide redundancy to guard against downtime resulting from a defective optical line as well as from a damaged XFOC card. Though this design was most important for the two mobile Base Devices, it was also implemented in the five Base Devices installed in the truck.
The recording section had to be equally dependable and fault tolerant. In addition to the main Pyramix multitrack recording system, another Nuendo Digital Audio Workstation is also available for backup copies, for a total of 128 recording tracks simultaneously available in both of them. Each system has its own Level-5 RAID with a storage capacity of two terabytes. If that proves insuffi cient, up to four MADI ports installed on the NEXUS system can be used to connect additional external recording equipment.
The Pyramix system is well on the way to become the standard solution for AURUS users, therefore programming the AURUS console remote control functions for the recording system was a routine exercise. From simple transport control to track arming in record mode, all important machine functions can be controlled directly from the console. AURUS is fi tted with four remote control units, which can also be used to control video machines.
…And Then Vision
Unlike the audio control room, where the racks are virtually full and most of the devices have been fully expanded, the video control and editing sections still have ample room for expansion. The truck is equipped with 16 HD cameras and two specialist minicams but cabling and routing is already installed for a total of up to 26 cameras. All video connections use HD-SDI and can be freely patched on a nVision router.
Of course, there is also the audio-follows-video functionality provided by most OB trucks for TV applications. In this case, it allows NEXUS to automatically switch audio tracks as the vision mixer selects different picture sources. This integration was surprisingly easy to achieve, because implementing the slave connection was a simple matter of activating a serial connection between the NEXUS and the video router.
Opera Or TV?
The Mariinsky Theatre is probably the fi rst opera house in the world to have its own OB truck. Everyone is eager to see how this audiobiased HD truck will perform in practice – it was only delivered to St. Petersburg in December 2007.
This bold concept leaves plenty of room for expansion. It will raise the profi le of Russian opera by bringing it to TV and the world both during the tour and when the refurbished hall becomes operational. A very different baptism has already been achieved successfully. The truck‘s fi rst major assignment was completed in February 2008 covering the Laureus Sports Awards. The ceremony was transmitted from St. Petersburg to 83 countries throughout the world.
The Golden Venture
A black granite cube vaulted by a huge gold-tinted glass honeycomb roof: this avant-garde concept by controversial French architect Dominique Perrault won the international competition run to select the design for an annex to the venerable Mariinsky Theatre in Saint
Petersburg in 2003. Connected to the existing structure by a new bridge, this 100-million-dollar extension is being constructed beyond the Krykov channel. There is nothing undersized here: Under the golden cocoon, entrance halls, restaurants, and galleries are spread around the core building, which houses a concert hall for 2000 spectators, fi ve secondary stages, and rehearsal facilities for orchestras, choirs, and ballet companies.
The architecturally daring New Theatre will be fi nished in 2009. According to the city fathers it will become a symbol of the modern and Western orientation of the metropolis by the Neva River. Until then, the OB truck will broadcast key performances from other Russian stages to Saint Petersburg.