The Teatro Colón, situated in Buenos Aires, is considered one of the best opera houses in the world according to National Geographic. Originally opened in 1857, the new building features a massive horseshoe-shaped 2,487 seat auditorium with standing room for 1,000 and a 20 m wide, 15 m high, and 20 m deep stage.
Renowned for its exceptional acoustics and architectural features, the Cultural Heritage body of the local government commissioned a comprehensive renovation of the theatre. The plan included a total upgrade of the audio and visual experience of the 100-year-old building.
The project’s deadline was set to coincide with the the Día de la Patria, an important date for all Argentinians.
The project, awarded to the GPA office in Argentina ICAP LATAM, involved a delicate electroacoustic renovation. The solution had to enhance the audience experience while providing e a customized AV solution to improve the sound and visuals for all productions. As the theatre was already renowned for its clear and astounding acoustics, this added pressure to the already monumental task of working in a fairly fragile environment.
As part of the bid, ICAP had to demonstrate that they were up to the task to perform this specialized job. The ICAP team put together a hyper-performing group of individuals from various backgrounds including conservation and architecture to tackle the project.
The project had many moving parts and luckily the ICAP team made it their priority to understand the customer’s needs by working closely with all stakeholders. As with most projects, each stakeholder had different concerns, but all were for the greater good of the Teatro Colón.
The added complexity with this particular project is that many of the stakeholders weren’t from a corporate background, but an artistic background. A new type of customer for ICAP.
The team needed to adjust to a group of stakeholders that was deeply and emotionally involved in their place of work.
All performances at the Teatro Colón are recorded in the main as well as some of the secondary halls. The recordings are then sent to the registry for National Heritage to preserve the nation’s history. Consequently, the audio needed to be absolutely faultless.
From a practical standpoint, amplifying the audio from the stage would help the performers. Previously, performers had to remain close to the stage to hear their cues to appear on stage. This created unnecessary chaos in the Back of House. New amplified audio, reduced potential disruptions and increased the quality of transitions between the performers and the scenes.
Backstage is very similar to seeing an anthill and at first glance seems totally chaotic. Where there was a dining room, only a minute ago is now a street in Paris. Only then do you understand that what seemed chaotic was absolutely controlled – 100 people within 60 seconds who know exactly what to do, how, where and when to do it.
Martín Corró, Engineering Manager
Security for the performers
Originally, a gallery hidden in the recesses of the dome ceiling was from where the choir would perform. The audience would be enveloped by the dramatic effect, like hearing Angels singing from the heavens.
However, the space was difficult to get to and quite unsafe and the practice was stopped. The upgrade meant that the celestial effect from the choir would be again possible with speakers now installed in the dome. The choir is today able to sing from the safety of one of the studio halls of the theatre.
LED monitors have also been installed on stage to display subtitles for any of the stage performances. The monitors replace the original projector system used. The projector was a nuisance for the performers and also interfered with the stage lighting.
The equipment like wiring needed to be embedded in the century-old building. Not an easy task when you have a group of nervous stakeholders looking over your shoulder for the entire operation. In fact, this was the largest audience ICAP ever had watching their work.
These included several representatives from two architecture companies, historians, firefighters, theatre staff, and curious bystanders that just happened to be in the building. The object of everyone’s attention was the implementation of the LED monitors.
In the hall, the proscenium bridge (the ceiling arch that separates the stage from the main seating area) had to be lowered and adjusted to a heigh that audience could see the LED monitors. The fire break panel between the auditorium and the stage had to be removed with the help of the firefighters.
While performing this delicate task, the ICAP team had the ever so vigilant Teatro Colón historians watching their every move. Each cut of the proscenium wood, as well as the fabric, was painstakingly removed to be put into storage during the renovation.
Management vs Ballet performers
You don’t necessarily expect AV installations and ballet dancers in the same sentence. But for ICAP there was an indirect push-back moment from one of their stakeholders and an unusual challenge.
The ballet ensemble had reservations about the newly refurbished floor in the stage area and protested against the changes by locking the dance training room. The ICAP team desperately needed access to this room to install the connection plates and speakers.
ICAP was caught in the politics of the theatre, but through negotiations, the team managed the situation professionally and delivered the project in full.
This is one of those projects where only the best take part, performing at full potential. From a technical point of view, I have learned about historical venues by working with specialists from various backgrounds.
Martín Corró, Engineering Manager
The project needed to be completed for a reopening on the Día de la Patria. The coordination was planned with minute details, and much of the success was due to the relationship developed with the theatre staff.
Understanding how important the theatre meant to the employees helped align the objectives between ICAP and the customer. It was crucial to align with the customer’s expectations by understanding their relationship with the building. Certainly, the new functionalities would improve the audience experience, but knowing that the GPA team respected the historical building as much as the employees did was crucial.
The Teatro Colón’s team of specialists involved in the renovation of the building was technically knowledgeable and kept each other on their toes – a testament to the power of knowledge share.
Behind the curtain chaos reigns. Once it lifts, all that remains is the performance that the audience is waiting for and the show must go on.