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4/26/96: Sound varies throughout an opera house or concert hall. Surely, on the podium, you are not hearing what the audience hears. What rules of thumb do you follow regarding dynamics and balance?

Of course, the better you know a house, the easier this becomes. The worst-case scenario is a new house in which you have no rehearsal. But, even if you have rehearsal, you have to remember that a performance will sound different in a full house. In particular in opera, with the orchestra in the pit, an empty house will seem to favor the orchestra while the singers will be more audible when there are people in the seats. Also, it is well to remember that many houses have some bad seats. It is, of course, a mistake to try to balance to those seats. You run every chance of unbalancing for most of the listeners.

For the most part, I balance to my own ears on the theory that Iím actually in the worst position to hear balances within the orchestra or between the stage and orchestra pit. Also, you have to be careful taking the advice of even a respected colleague. Apart from the fact that, inevitably, people bring different expectations to various musical pieces, I am always amazed at how many fellow musicians are a little afraid of pianissimi. A ppp marking should be difficult to hear. Gaining our experience of music from recordings is particularly negative with regard to dynamics. You will never get quite the same experience of either dynamic extreme from a record, nor do you become a more attentive listener.

If Iím new to a house, even if I will be rehearsing in the house, it can be very helpful to listen to another conductorís performances in that house, especially if I know that conductorís work and tastes. If, for example, I know a particular conductor never goes for a very brass-y sound and thatís what Iím hearing, Iím alerted that I may have an acoustic problem.

Question: How do you know the performers in the audience? Answer: Theyíre always walking around, changing location (if they can). Theyíre auditioning the house.

©1996 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.

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