New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. Culture
  2. Radio & Podcasts
22 October 2015

How to tape an opera: recording Orphée et Eurydice

Capturing live opera demands more than a series of mikes attached to the lapels of singers and someone pressing Record.

By Antonia Quirke

“Any mention of the gold lamé trouser suit and the boobs?”

I’m in the basement of the Royal Opera House in London during a Radio 3 recording of a new production of Gluck’s 1774 tragedy Orphée et Eurydice, featuring the esteemed Monteverdi Choir (24 October, 6.30pm, BBC Radio 3). Everybody is looking through the monitor at the American soprano Amanda Forsythe playing the god Amour while dressed like something out of Boogie Nights.

Having assumed that capturing live opera demands a series of mikes attached to the lapels of singers and someone pressing Record, I find it in fact involves a sound balancer, Susan, and her assistant, Adele, continually talking fast and low, minutely fading up and down the acoustics emerging from over 60 places in the theatre where microphones have been positioned and repositioned (“Was that a slight crash?” “Yes, a cello kicking”). The singers rarely wear radio mikes, Susan tells me, because “it can sound too close. You need to hear space and separation and distance. The sense of something happening on an actual stage.”

One of the challenges tonight is the long sections of dance in the production, which must be captured to suggest the bounce and flux of feet yet never overwhelm the ear. The listener must not be too frustrated about things they can’t see. Such diligence was sobering, the love in the room so evident: not just for the music, but for the latticework of tiny decisions that go into making perfect music radio. As the producer, Ellie, sits bent over her score – a dusty great, 1967 library edition, full of pencilled notes and crossings – it is evident that she has seen this particular production several times already, every onstage gesture mentally logged, how each particular performer moves, or even likes to breathe.

The running commentary is spookily prescient, as if these women are mind-readers (“He’ll shift now”). Most memorably, when the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez, as Orphée, embraces the British soprano Lucy Crowe’s Eurydice, there is a muffled, lip-smacking noise, very subtle and unusual, open to aural interpretation.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

“A kiss,” murmurs Susan, narrowing her eyes. “A kiss. Yes . . . let’s keep that in.” 

Content from our partners
The future of private credit
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce

This article appears in the 21 Oct 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The 18th-century Prime Minister