Meyer Sound Constellation Provides Key Element in San Francisco Opera's Initiative to Redefine Opera for 21st Century Audiences
San Francisco Opera's new Dianne and Tad Taube Atrium Theater features a Meyer Sound Constellation acoustic system, custom designed to provide the showcase venue with a range of acoustic environments to support the adventurous exploration of operatic programming for new audiences.
San Francisco Opera (SF Opera) is the first opera company to rely upon Constellation. Located in the newly renovated Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera, the 299-seat Atrium Theater is designed for multiple configurations, providing both performer and audience members with a very personal approach to opera. Constellation's unique ability to shape acoustics on demand allows SF Opera to expand from traditional theatre-style seating to cabaret settings with café tables and in-the-round performances, or even edgier configurations.
"If we really want this to be a gateway for new audiences and an exciting place for new ideas, the Wilsey Center must be state-of-the-art," says David Gockley, general director of SF Opera. "Top on my list was a Meyer Sound Constellation system to anchor our acoustic foundation. Not only could we guarantee terrific acoustics for now, but we would also leave a legacy for future generations to dream in ways we cannot presently imagine."
Elkhanah Pulitzer takes on programming responsibilities for the new Atrium Theater under SF Opera's new production division, SF Opera Lab. She approaches the Atrium Theater as an incubator and testing ground for new ideas—a litmus test for what opera can be in the future. "With Constellation, I can literally think outside of the box," she says. "I'm no longer limited by the shape of the room, or whether the acoustics will support a new performance idea. Now the theatre is a real partner to the company as we push the boundaries of performance and create new experiences for new audiences."
The newly christened Wilsey Center for Opera is the result of a $21 million renovation of the of the fourth floor and basement of the Beaux-Arts style Veterans Building, a historic Civic Center landmark that recently completed an extensive seismic retrofit. After six decades as the first home of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Veterans Building fourth floor sat for many years as an underused and neglected space for occasional City Hall offices and law library. SF Opera selected the award-winning architectural firm Mark Cavagnero Associates to transform the venue into a state-of-the-art theatre and education/rehearsal studio.
The results are a stunning realization of SF Opera's goals to consolidate many of its operations into one location adjacent to the Opera House: instead of darkness, light floods in from refurbished glass ceilings, elegant columns that had been walled off now stand tall and gleaming, and the dormant galleries have been restored to feature exhibitions of SF Opera's rich archival collection. In addition to the Atrium Theater, the 38,000-square-foot Wilsey Center is home to the Bryan Education and Rehearsal Studio, the Anderson Norby Costume Studio, the Braby San Francisco Opera Archive, and a variety of administrative and support offices.
Constellation uses proprietary technology to virtually adjust the shape of the venue, enabling composers, conductors, and artists to create the venue best suited to the desired experience.
"Constellation is seamlessly and invisibly integrated into the physical architecture of the Atrium Theater," says Steve Ellison, Meyer Sound's applications director for digital products. "The room's adjustable active acoustics give the theatre a chameleon-like quality, able to ideally support ensembles both large and small. New productions can take advantage of all of the system's immersive audio capabilities, including multi-channel playback and SpaceMap surround panning that can bring the walls and ceiling to life."
At the press of a button, theatre acoustics shift from dry black box to opera house, chamber music hall, cathedral, or any number of other options. Constellation augments the artistic experience for artists and audiences alike: the system's whole-room approach to room acoustics helps performers hear each other and audiences to experience optimal acoustics from any seat in the house.
The D-Mitri digital audio platform provides the backbone for Constellation, and hosts the patented VRAS acoustical algorithm. This works in conjunction with 24 widely distributed microphones and 75 small, self-powered loudspeakers mounted discreetly within the theatre walls and ceiling. San Francisco-based Arup provided acoustical and AV consulting services, with Kurt Graffy leading the team. Santa Rosa, Calif.-based PCD installed the system.