We were very privileged to have Sound Space Vision as part of the team creating our wonderful new theatre. Here, SSV tell us more about the not insignificant challenge of setting an opera house directly into a 17th centry courtyard of a listed stable block.
As theatre planners and acousticians, Sound Space Vision believes that sharing performances reflects our common humanity and has the ability to transform lives.
One of our design specialities is opera houses, and whilst we’ve consulted on many around the world, Nevill Holt Opera is special. Setting an opera house directly into a 17th century courtyard of a listed stable block is beyond unusual, and was not an insignificant challenge, but one which we are proud to have surmounted thanks to the generosity of David Ross, NHO, and the teamwork of WWM Architects, along with the other consultants and contractors.
A flytower was not possible over the stage, owing to the height restrictions of the heritage building, so a very simple timber roof structure rests on the historic parapet walls, delicately balanced with the weight of scenery and lighting equipment. With a nod to the early history of opera we have taken advantage of the existing rectangular geometry to create a single space connecting audience and performers, and, by careful attention to the thickness and detailing of the timber, created acoustical resonance and warmth to convey the subtle musical nuances of the artists. The timber, along with a green roof, the double-glazed skylight, and sound attenuating air vents keep out the noise of wind, rain and the occasional aircraft that have been part of previous NHO seasons. Most evident to patrons is that the new hall reveals the original stable walls, doors and openings at the side and rear of the auditorium.
With lead architects Chris Watson and Stephen Witherford, SSV worked through several designs for the auditorium, settling on a gently curved form. The stalls and wraparound balcony form the horseshoe-shape favoured by opera companies for its three dimensional dynamic between the performers, the balcony and the stalls. Intimate and embracing, this shape affords good sightlines for patrons. The side balconies are particularly helpful in giving acoustical support as the sound bounces off the balconies’ undersides and front panels sending it to the audience and the performers.
Entry level access is graceful with patrons entering the auditorium level mid-stalls stepping up to the back stalls or down to the front stall rows. It also allows for easy, ground level access directly to the stage and around the perimeter of the auditorium.
The orchestra pit, large enough to seat up to 45 musicians, gives the strings and winds, in particular, a greater presence and bloom in the hall than was the case in the old canvas theatre. The pit can accommodate larger orchestras required for quality productions of an expanded repertoire, with a floor height that can be raised slightly for the lighter musical textures and colours of Baroque orchestras to speak into the hall.
Nevill Holt Opera’s theatrical ethos, although somewhat restricted by years of performing in a temporary venue, has given the design team a road map towards a hall which matches the opera company’s ambitious artistic output. The perceived simplicity of the theatrical design is one of the hall’s most defining features, but great care has been taken to conceal the technical and cabling infrastructure within the architecture, whilst building a workably proficient and adaptable theatre.
While regular NHO patrons will remember past years’ accommodations, new patrons would be forgiven if they feel that this opera house has been here for some time – the new hall feels so perfectly placed, so confidently appropriate and naturally realised.
Sound Space Vision is proud to have contributed to England’s newest opera house and celebrating the company’s investment in young performing talent.
Members enjoy priority booking for Nevill Holt Opera’s Summer Festival and other key events.
Priority Booking for our summer opera festival in August opens on the 4 March.
Public Booking opens at 10am on the 1 April.