July 1, 2013

Amplification in opera houses?

A few days ago I thought to myself that my next blog would be about “miking” in opera houses or the lack thereof and coincidentally this morning I read that a reputable newspaper mentioned singers wearing “microphones” for HD broadcasts, recordings etc.

For years I have read, not without amusement may I add, of various conspiracies that today’s leading singers, including yours truly, use “microscopic James Bond type microphones” in order to be heard in the world’s leading opera houses. In fact it’s quite  a bummer that I didn’t know about such “devices” before,  as I would  have certainly not spent all those years learning vocal technique in order to perform one of the many  little ” vocal miracles” and project my voice over an orchestra in the auditorium!

Naturally if there is an HD broadcast or a live recording of the performance, singers have to wear a microphone in order to capture the sound of their voices for broadcast or recording. Without this all you would have is “silent opera” in the cinema or on the recording and that would defeat the purpose a little bit, wouldn’t it? This, however, is NOT amplification in any way and the sound is not transmitted into the house at all. I’ll go a step further and state that I have been singing professionally since 1997 and not once, did I ever encounter any singer wearing any “secret” amplification device in a “normal” and “acoustically viable” opera house such as London, Munich, The Metropolitan Opera, Vienna Staatsoper etc. Of course there were exceptions that relate to open air performances or giant indoor venues. In latter venues amplification is as necessary as it is obvious.  Examples of these are the Bregenz Festival when performed on the lake, indoor sport arenas and my own yearly concert in Malta where we sing in a square that can take more than 50000 people. Another instance is when there are “spoken” words in an opera like Bizet’s Carmen. Again here the direction might decide to amplify the speaking part but never the singing part.

The irony of this is that many singers including myself find singing with a microphone, when used for amplification,  as a very uncomfortable experience as the “sensation” and “return” of the voice is very different than what we opera singers are used to in the opera house.

In fact I am ready to take one for the team and offer any “journalist” or “conspirator” the opportunity to check me for any “futuristic amplification devices” right before going on stage and right after stepping out of it on the wings… if I am guilty I will eat a microphone…the tiny futuristic one of course…


  1. Charie

    What this reminds me of is when photorealist painters get accused of photomanipulation or tracing, which as I understand happens pretty often. They get offended too. =) I guess it could just be seen as the overly literal side of ‘unbelievably skilled’ admiration?

  2. A typical statement from a typical opera singer with little knowledge.
    Modern miking is a new thing. And those micro headworn mics are not good enough for a great voice like an operasinger’s. Therefore the really sophisticated mics costing 3-5 thousand dollars have to be used to give us the real great sound of the voices.
    My usual example is: let’s assume there is the most wonderful, brilliant, emotional, perfect pitch, warm, lovely, heavenly soprano voice out there, wanting and able to sing the finest arias written. But she cannot do this, because her voice isn’t powerful and loud enough to be heard over a big orchestra without a discret amplification. The purists who forever keep babbling about how important it is to sing without mics, have stopped her from giving the operaloving part of the world a chance to hear that voice I described, live. She will have to be recorded in a studio. Or else, that wonderful, rare voice, will have to be trained and rehearsed to be like all other voices. Perhaps it no longer will be as outstanding and sensational as it once was.

    • admin

      Thanks for feedback but my blog was not whether opera singers should or shouldn’t be amplified but about the fact that they are not. I do sympathize with your friend about “bigger orchestras” often tuning at much higher “pitch” than any composer from the 19th till mid 20th century intended.

      Where I do not agree with you is that opera singing is all about being loud. Its the contrary. Operatic technique is about training an already predisposed operatic voice into functioning at its ideal and most efficient. This actually would make an interesting blog and I will expand there.

    • DJ

      I tend to agree with you about giving singers that have a wonderful
      sound. I happen to think one of the most beautiful voice I have ever
      heard is that girl, Jackie Evancho. She has a large range and seems to
      have perfect pitch. And her tone is out of this world beautiful.
      She is now 13 so very very young a still has to get through

    • Al Thomas

      You’re missing the point entirely. Anybody can have a beautiful voice. But opera isn’t just that. Watch XFactor or American Idol or attend a broadway musical and there you will find many fantastic, powerful voices with the ability to produce wonderful sounds, but amplified. The skill of opera is to be able to do this, without amplification, while sounding sweet and easy and to an auditorium of 1000 people or more. If one can’t naturally do this, training is how you develop it. Training is the key. As soon as you introduce amplification, it completely undermines this skill and art form. I’ve heard more and more opera houses are introducing subtle amplification. This is because, for the most part, the training isn’t sufficient. When this happens, the true fans, which were drawn to this because of it’s original aesthetic will stop going to live performances. I think this is happening right now. Look at the financial debacle the American and European operas houses face today.

  3. Dieter

    DJ: who the Dickens is Jackie Evancho?! In what opera houses does she perform? I wish her all the best for her puberty.
    And what has this comment to do with Mr. Calleja´s article denying that opera houses are amplifying voices? I wish he were right, but he isn´t. Other singers have already admitted that voices are being miked. And I have seen myself these cunningly or not so cunningly hidden little devices at inhouse performances that were not applied for recording purposes because the performances were NOT recorded.

    • admin

      This “miked” up business is absolutely ridiculous and gets on my nerves. Opera singers are only “miked” when there is an HD recording and the “miking” is not used for amplification. Think of all the movements, footsteps, quartets, trios etc. etc.

      Please quote legitimate opera singers who admit that they are being amplified during a regular operatic performance.

  4. Dion

    I know this is an old blog but I think many people confuse miking with in ear prompting devices which is being used more commonly.

  5. Octavio Campos Fischer

    Dear Mr. Joseph Calleja,
    I’m from Brasil and I just found this article because I’m trying to understand what happened to Arena di Verona, because I’ve heard that since 2011 they´ve began to use microphones. I wrote to them (arena administration people) and they confirmed twice. That made me “get on my nerves”, because, as I said to them on my e-mail, they had just transformed one of the most amazing opera theaters into a broadway open air show. So, looking on the web to understand what is going on with opera business man, and what makes an opera singer do that, I’ve found – how can I say – a light at the of the tunel in your article above. I don’t know how famous singers, knowing that so many past singers sung at arena without amplication, can now use microphones!!! That is a shame for me. For me, at the end, opera is voice. Perhaps, one cannot find so often powerful voices like Del Monaco, Vickers, Corelli, Birgit Nilson, in matter of volume, but, if one wants to be an opera singer, must know that have to has enough voice to sing opera without microphone. Otherwise, should be a popular singer. Of course that there are places to make opera popular (like opera on football arena), but these are not the rule. Thanks for thinking like a real opera singer, and thanks God you have a very good opera voice. I expect you come to Brasil one day to sing an opera (no mike, please!!!!). Salute

    • admin

      I never sung in the famed Arena. I have absolutely no experience with anyone being amplified in my performances…

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Joseph's Blog

May 16th, 2016

Quo Vadis Eurovision and other stories

Malta did not win the Eurovision but lo and behold the sun still rose and the island (the center of the known universe) still spun…

My two cents is that Ira Losco gave a really good performance and that the whole presentation was excellent. She shouldn’t have performed cause she is pregnant? Come off it – I have performed repeatedly with pregnant opera singers well into their 7th and 8th month of pregnancy and trust me when I say that rehearsing and performing for a full opera production is much more physically demanding than a couple of days at the Eurovision. Of course there are those who know much better than the undersigned and who went on to say that the presentation was a tad “camp”…oh the irony when one considers that the Eurovision is the campest of them all.

Meanwhile, this wouldn’t be Malta and the Eurovision wouldn’t be the Eurovision unless its politicized to the exhaustible hilt. The inevitable “mud slinging competition,” which we will see a lot of in the coming 22 months, ensued and even yours truly (inexplicably) ended up in the midst of the fray, in yet another “supernova” in a tea cup. The Eurovision suddenly became an interchangeable bullet to be used ad nauseam by both sides much like bitter parents who use their innocent children during disputes.  I have always found sycophants interesting, even amusing but they will not be getting the much desired Streisand effect from me, thank you very much. It is part of human nature after all to conjure conspiracies and we are not going to let the simple truth get in the way of some exciting and convenient fiction.

Speaking of “conjuring” is it me or is a company advertising real estate using a chap “connected” with the tragic and unnecessary death of an underage girl? It must be a clone or a”doppleganger”, otherwise this would be the epitome of bad taste and a 100 shades of wrong. Don’t get me wrong I am all for “second chances” and all of that but shouldn’t there be due process first? After all Lisa Marie didn’t get a second chance did she?