Before my first trip to Bregenz in the summer of 2002, I was very skeptical about the loudspeaker system. I was afraid it would either sound tinny, like a London musical, or ear-splitting like a rock concert. But it was neither of these. It was pleasant, natural, clearly audible but not dangerously loud.
And it was directional. When one of the singers walked across the stage his voice seemed to be moving with him. Sort of like a stereo or quad-something in your living room, but two thousand times as large.
What really convinced me in 2002 was the fact that one of the singers, a Spanish bass named Felipe Bou, was a member of the Frankfurt Opera ensemble at the time. I had heard him sing exactly the same role, Colline in Puccini’s La Bohème, several times that season in Frankfurt, so I had a good idea of what his voice sounded like without a microphone. And on the Bregenz sound system he sounded exactly the same. (He later moved to Leipzig, by the way, where I once heard and saw him as Rodolfo in Bellini’s La sonnambula.)
In 2005, I unfortunately did not have this kind of direct comparison, since the only Frankfurt singer on the cast list, Zeliko Lucic, did not perform on either of the two nights I was there. (Because they perform the same opera up to six times per week, they have three different singers for each of the major roles.)
But they seemed to be constantly upgrading the sound system, and I had the impression it sounded even better in 2005 than in 2002 — except for the cheapest seats at the bottom right and left-hand corners, rows A to H, which was not surprising because the loudspeakers surrounding the grandstand (the black band on black stilts, in the photos) did not go all the way down to the shore.
A completely new sound system, BOA 2.0, was installed in 2019, but I haven’t heard it yet. The black band on black stilts is no longer there, having been replaced by twenty-nine newly positioned loudspeaker poles with four loudspeakers each at different levels, to “ensure a balanced sound in all areas” where spectators are seated.
My photos in this post are from 2005. I revised the text in 2022.
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