Already tagged by noted sound system designer Bob McCarthy as “a harbinger of the future,” the new Theatre at Solaire Resort & Casino in Manila’s expanding Entertainment City complex has earned instant acclaim from the local press for bringing first-class amenities and cutting-edge theatre technology to audiences in the Philippines. Although perhaps too isolated to forecast a trend, or place any bets, the new 1,761-seat venue – which celebrated its grand opening in late November – may portend a gradual shift in Asia’s gaming-related entertainment industry away from near total dominance by Macau.
The Theatre at Solaire is the centerpiece in a recent “phase 1A” expansion of the Solaire Resort & Casino, a US $1 billion-plus project operated by Bloomberry Resorts and Hotels, Inc. Although Manila’s modest Entertainment City falls short of the fabled Cotai Strip in size and scope, with the Theatre at Solaire, at least it is moving into the same realm of technical excellence.
“Without seeming boastful, I’d have to say it’s the most advanced theatre in the Philippines,” states Shax Siasoco, technical director for the venue. “It might be premature to make claims about competing with Macau, but we expect to attract more international attention. And certainly with the Constellation system, we can offer the optimum acoustical environment for any type of performance.”
The Constellation reference is to the sophisticated system of active acoustics from Meyer Sound, and it’s a feature that distinguishes The Theatre at Solaire from nearly all similar venues in the region, as it is only the second general performance venue in Asia – the first being a smaller hall at Korea’s Dongseo University – to have the architectural acoustics, active (electronic) acoustics and direct reinforcement system all designed from the outset as an integrated whole. The “general performance” caveat excludes a few theatrical spectaculars in which Constellation served a somewhat different purpose.
“Integrating active acoustics and PA design into a construction project from the earliest design phases is still a relatively new concept,” says Bob McCarthy, director of system optimization at Meyer Sound. “The benefits are significant and far-reaching. Now we finally have the dream of a true multi-purpose hall, without compromises. At Solaire, we have none of the surfaces introduced to generate early reflections for stage sound, a feature that only causes problems for amplified sound. There is no tonal modification from surfaces around the main arrays, so we have super-clear, uniform, and uncolored reproduction.”
The entire theatre technology package was designed and specified by Las Vegas and Hong Kong-based Coherent Designs, with principals David Starck and Kevin Potts working in consultation with theatre design architects Aedas Worldwide (Singapore office). Coherent’s Starck also designed the room’s physical acoustics as well as the direct reinforcement system, the latter in consultation with McCarthy. His liaison with the project owners and other contractors was via an independent construction management team, working on behalf of the owners, that was headed by Marc Palaroan with Dale Schulz acting as the project manager for technical systems.
“I was familiar with Constellation from several spectacle shows in Macau,” says Shulz, who is now Solaire’s director of technology systems and infrastructure. “However, nobody in top management here had heard it before, so there was some initial skepticism. They wanted a flexible theatre but they were not sure how to achieve it. When Constellation was proposed by Coherent for the project, I had to put my reputation on the line, and fortunately I was fully supported by Marc Palaroan. It wasn’t until the system was installed and tuned that they were convinced it was the right way to go, but since then it’s become a prime calling card of the venue.”
As a starting point for acoustics, Starck targeted a reverberation time of about 0.8 seconds. “I worked with the architects early on to make sure their design avoided reflective surfaces and also could accommodate an enormous amount of absorption,” he notes. “On completion we measured the room at under one second when empty, and likely somewhat less than that when full.”
Working within this favourable acoustical milieu, Meyer Sound’s Constellation design team devised a scheme for supplying variable acoustics with a uniform and completely natural response throughout the auditorium. A total of 63 ambient microphones (16 compact cardioid, 16 mini omni and 31 mini gooseneck cardioid) are placed over and around the seating area, with signals feeding a D-Mitri digital audio platform hosting the patented VRAS acoustical algorithms.
On the output side, for introducing calculated early reflections and late reverberations into the space, Constellation employs a total of 213 small Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeakers (55 Stella-4C, 41 Stella-8C, 93 MM-4XP, 24 UPJunior-XP) along with 16 UMS-SMXP compact subwoofers to extend the reverberation envelope to the lowest octaves. The loudspeakers receive DC power (for the amplifiers) and balanced audio signals over a single five-conductor cable from 28 remote power supply/signal distribution units.
“We left them with about a dozen basic presets,” says Coherent’s David Starck, “to work with everything from hard rock – basically off – to jazz, pop, symphonic and Broadway shows. For demonstration purposes, we also left them with an extremely long ‘cathedral’ setting. We also gave them the option to route console outputs into the system for special surround effects if desired.”
To accommodate the broad range of performance requirements with complementary amplified reinforcement, Starck and McCarthy specified a system anchored by dual main arrays of Meyer Sound’s potent MICA line array loudspeakers. A single UPQ-2P loudspeaker supplies center fill, six UPM-1XP loudspeakers provide front fill, in addition to a center flown directional array of six 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements. The Galileo Callisto loudspeaker management system takes care of loudspeaker drive and optimization.
Both the Constellation and direct reinforcement systems were supplied and installed by All Visual & Lights Systems (AVLS) of Manila under the supervision of Marvic Ramos. “The AVLS crew did an excellent job, working alongside the Meyer Sound and Coherent personnel,” notes Solaire’s Dale Schulz. “We feel fortunate to have their talent and expertise available here locally.”
For Bob McCarthy, the Theatre at Solaire marks yet another turning point in his storied career as an audio system design consultant and tuning specialist whose credits range from the Harpa concert hall in Iceland to more than 10 Cirque du Soleil productions. “This is a benchmark installation for me,” he maintains. “I can recall no other project where the architectural acoustics, active acoustics and PA were so fully and seamlessly integrated from the outset. This room is ready for anything from symphony to musicals to full-on rock, and with acoustics that are ready to go and fully intuitive to the user.”
McCarthy is particularly pleased by the absolute neutrality of the room, with no coloration of the reinforced sound from surfaces in proximity to the loudspeaker arrays. “The beauty of it is how the clarity of the direct sound is unchallenged by the room, so you can simply dial in as much spatiality as you want. You never lose control of the direct sound, regardless of the amount of acoustical ambience you decide to introduce into the space.”
Although the Theatre at Solaire has ample facilities for accommodating front-of-house gear on touring productions, the in-house equipment roster should prove rider-friendly for most international visitors. The FOH console is a Yamaha CL5 with 96 inputs. The house radio microphone system is built around Shure ULXD4Q quad channel digital receivers paired with either hand-held (with Beta 58 head) or body-pack transmitters normally equipped with DPA headset microphones. The full complement of wired microphones includes popular models from AKG, Audio-Technica, DPA, Sennheiser and Shure. The intercom system encompasses both wired digital and wireless options from Clear-Com.
The theatre’s audio capabilities were showcased for the Philippine press and special guests at a gala grand opening celebration on November 26. With popular Philippine entertainer (and now Solaire’s director of entertainment) Audie Gemora serving as host, the evening’s festivities included a parade of well-known Filipino artists and ensembles presenting everything from opera and orchestral music to OPM (Original Pilipino Music), pop and Broadway hits.
At one point in the program, maestro Gerard Solonga left his podium in front of the ABS-CBN symphony orchestra and invited trumpeter Robert de Pano to the front of the stage. Midway through the trumpet solo, the Constellation system was turned off, and then back on. “You could see the audience react with astonishment,” recalls Solaire’s Dale Schulz. “It was a satisfying moment for all those involved in the project.”
It was also vindication for Coherent’s David Starck, who first proposed the new technology. “Solaire’s top management really had no idea what they were getting,” he reports. “You can explain it conceptually, but you don’t really get it until you experience it in the room, and hear the difference when it’s off and on. That’s when people who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of acoustics understand what they have, and usually you’ll see their faces light up with delight.”
The first show booked for the theatre was an international tour of the hit Broadway musical Chicago, which took the stage for a three week run in December. According to technical director Shax Siasoco, the theatre is largely booked through 2015. Though some bookings have yet to be finalized, the mix of shows looks to be about 80% Filipino acts and 20% international touring shows, with limited runs of Singing in the Rain, Sister Act, and Saturday Night Fever tentatively scheduled.
According to Dale Schulz, the Theatre at Solaire may soon be adding yet another enticement to attract the world’s premier musical tours. “Right now we only have Constellation in the auditorium, but we’re already considering adding the virtual orchestral shell to the stage area,” he says. “We’ve already started the process, and perhaps soon we’ll be able to book a tour stop of the Berlin Philharmonic between a Broadway show and an OPM pop concert.”