Opera Memphis and Iris Orchestra Continue During Pandemic
Pictured onstage are members of Iris Orchestra performing with a matched stereo set of TELEFUNKEN M60 microphones. Photo by Louis Tucker.
When the pandemic forced closure of both Opera Memphis and Iris Orchestra, organizers decided to continue with a full program of online streaming for the season ticket holders. To accomplish this, both classical music organizations shared a matched set of TELEFUNKEN M60 condenser microphones.
Marcia Kaufmann, Executive Director of Iris Orchestra, recalls, “Iris Orchestra held its second-to-last scheduled concert of the season last year on March 8, just as it became clear that the infections on the coast were headed our way. As the pandemic progressed, the May concert was cancelled, and all through the summer we drew up contingency plans for multiple scenarios that kept marching deeper and deeper into the calendar.”
The new TELEFUNKEN microphones were donated by Memphis resident and Iris Orchestra board member Mary Scheuner, whose son Jason manages Artist Relations at TELEFUNKEN. He not only consulted on the best choice of mics for the emergence from lockdown, but also advised on ancillary equipment and how to best get up and running with live-streaming by both organizations.
Since then, both Opera Memphis and Iris Orchestra have been able to provide quality music to their subscribers virtually. Following the huge local success, there are plans to continue with live streaming in the future. After the pandemic is over, both classical music organizations will continue to stream content permanently to accommodate those who cannot attend and for those who want to listen at home after attending a live performance.
Marcia Kaufman adds, “We were fortunate to be able to gather a small orchestra to rehearse and perform a revised program to videotape for streaming in October. The stage layout for a socially distanced orchestra is substantially different than our usual format, requiring a new setup and additional mics for sound recording. When I told our audio engineer that we had a pair of new Telefunken microphones available, his eyes lit up.”
“These Telefunken mics have been a game-changer for us,” says Opera Memphis’s CAA Jason Hardy. “From an industry perspective, we are now punching well beyond our class, and many other opera companies are playing catch-up to this little company in West Tennessee.”
Ned Canty, General Director and CEO of Opera Memphis, adds, “When we were forced to cancel our entire Spring Opera Festival in 2020, we wanted to act quickly to find new ways to fulfill our mission. At the time, Italy was still “ground zero” and there were videos going viral featuring Italian opera singers on balconies or bridges, sharing their gifts with their communities, so we felt inspired to respond quickly and positively.
“We focused on three things: We borrowed a trailer to do some free outdoor performances with our singers in various Memphis neighborhoods. Then we contacted WKNO, our local NPR station, about starting a monthly live broadcast. Next, we announced a digital version of our ’30 Days of Opera’ program, normally held in September, which features 30 days of free public performances across the city.”
TELEFUNKEN’s M60 FET Cardioid Stereo Set of microphones features two identical M60 FET amplifiers paired with a matched set of TK60 cardioid polar pattern capsules. The TK60 features a 6-micron gold-sputtered membrane measuring 15mm in diameter, with a solid low end, and quick and accurate transient response. The frequency response is flat from 150 Hz to 7 kHz, with a smooth, airy presence peak at 8 kHz.
“Like many arts organizations,” Marcia Kaufman explains, “the pandemic pushed us to explore new and creative ways to deliver concert programming to patrons and keep them engaged. Our restructured season and streamed programming allowed us to continue presenting a diverse repertoire of classical pieces to the Mid-South, while prioritizing the safety of our audience and orchestra members.”
Ned Canty explains, “The live performances, now called ‘Sing2Me’, were something we had expertise and equipment for, but the broadcast and digital content was new ground. We were very concerned about maintaining the quality people expect from Opera Memphis, and our early experiments did not always pass the bar we set. Receiving the Telefunken mics in August allowed us to lean in to serving our entire audience, including the folks who were not able to participate in any live event, even one that was socially distanced. We have been able to produce months worth of content that has served our local audience, but has also been shared across multiple continents.
“While we are looking forward to a post-pandemic future of live events, we are now confident that we can produce digital content for groups of patrons, whether large or small, that will complement our other offerings. The need to innovate and the ability to experiment will hopefully turn out to be silver linings of the past year. We look at the future feeling confident, nimble and prepared for whatever comes, knowing that we can deliver a product we are proud to put our name on.”
Kerriann Otaño, Marketing Manager at Opera Memphis, says, “Our digital presence has grown exponentially with the continuation of our monthly streaming concerts with our PBS station WKNO and the creation of our weekly ‘Tune in Tuesday’ series, which presents new content every Tuesday aimed at reaching people in their homes with entertaining and informative opera content that breaks the mold. While people may expect opera content to be stuffy and unapproachable, we believe our mission is to serve the community by engaging in new and unexpected ways.”
Otaño adds, “It was when we were recording voiceover for a show that we first realized the built in audio equipment we were relying on couldn’t keep up with our ambition. The sound was not as crisp and clear until we used our new Telefunken mics. They picked up the warmth of a baritone’s voice and the bright ring of a saxophone with equal clarity. Mixing them in post production was incredibly satisfying because it picked up the sound so clearly that it felt like we were in the room hearing it live. They’ve changed the game, especially during COVID when so many people are longing for the experience of attending live theater.
“Creating this digital content is a hugely important facet of our mission to provide the highest quality entertainment for our community during this pandemic and beyond, and we will continue to develop exciting new programming for years to come because we now have the audio equipment to fully realize our vision.”
“The streamed concerts are appreciated by audiences,” adds Marcia Kaufmann, “and perhaps even more so by the musicians. The opportunities to do what they love and do best are limited this year, and practically every musician who has participated has expressed to me the pleasure of getting together once again with colleagues and creating music.”
Both Opera Memphis and the Iris Orchestra have received enthusiastic local news coverage with an emphasis on the sound quality in particular. The M60 FET’s sensitivity and clarity result in an extremely detailed sonic image with definition and presence perfectly suited for the complex character of stringed instruments and percussive sources.
View “Jazz Meets Opera”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Rp9S8o3rVY
Learn more about Opera Memphis: https://www.operamemphis.org
Learn more about Iris Orchestra: https://irisorchestra.org
Learn more about the TELEFUNKEN M60:
TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik strives for absolute perfection. By offering historic recreations of classic microphones alongside their own proprietary designs based around the distinctive tube mic sound, TELEFUNKEN has established a product line that expertly combines vintage style and sound with the reliability of a modern-day microphone design. TELEFUNKEN’s commitment to both the sonic excellence and quality of all of their products is rivaled only by their dedication to provide the best possible service to their customers. http://www.telefunken-elektroakustik.com