The Renovation of the Cincinnati Music Hall Gets Raves as the Opera Prepares to Return Home

by Stage Directions

The Cincinnati Music Hall, which opened in 1878, is filled with Victorian Gothic grandeur as designed by architect Samuel Hannaford and is on the National Register of Historic Places. A multi-use performing arts center, Music Hall is home to Cincinnati’s symphony orchestra, pops orchestra, ballet, and the May Festival Chorus. It is also home to Cincinnati Opera, one of the oldest and most highly regarded opera companies in U.S., who will celebrate their 98th season this summer returning to the newly renovated Music Hall. When the city launched the $143 million renovation in 2016 it had a caveat: the renovation must be completed in just 16 months. Teamwork and custom solutions brought the project in on time and on budget when it reopened in Oct. 2017. 

Though there were upgrades throughout the building, the Music Hall’s nearly 3,500-seat Springer Auditorium was the primary focus. Needing to refurbish rigging equipment, correct uneven acoustics, increase stage versatility and improve seating comfort, the city hired Akustiks acoustical consultants and Schuler Shook theatre planners. Christopher Blair is a partner at Akustiks and its chief scientist, described the challenges. “We wanted to help create a closer relationship between the audience and performers but maintain the signature sound of the historically protected building. That created limitations on what we could and could not do.”
Interior of The Cincinnati Music Hall

As there were no cookie-cutter solutions and everything had to look like it belonged in the space, the team turned to vendors who could customize their products, and fast. Everyone agreed to engage J.R. Clancy and Wenger early on, said Michael Burgoyne, a partner at Schuler Shook. “We had tight design and construction times and a complex project. J.R. Clancy’s experience with large, custom rigging solutions made them a perfect fit, and we knew Wenger could handle other custom items and modifications.”

The architectural partnership of Martinez and Johnson, design architect, and Perfido, Weiskopf, Wagstaff and Goettel executive architect, moved the stage edge 13 feet out into the audience and musicians in front of the proscenium, with the use of J.R. Clancy-supplied Serapid motorized stage lifts. Wenger created custom choral and orchestra risers to elevate performers, which, in turn, would help project sound. There was still an issue of sound going into the stage house, rather than the audience so J.R. Clancy modified an existing shell tower height from 24 feet to 40 feet by creating a wall extension mechanism. J.R. Clancy also worked with subcontractor C.K. Wegner who fabricated custom acoustical glass ceiling elements as designed by Blair to act as a canopy over the orchestra platform. 

Backstage J.R. Clancy and Wenger provided nearly a dozen customized drum hoists, five motorized line shaft hoists, automation controls, and three custom seating wagons. They refurbished 83 counterweight linesets, provided a new motorized traction drive hoist for a fire curtain system and two SceneControl pendants, sourced additional equipment, and collaborated on the rigging installation with local installer Beck Studios. 

“Our client is thrilled with the result,” concludes Blair. It has been well-received by the public also. As one local reviewer noted, “The music has never sounded so rich, so detailed, so warm.”
The Cincinnati Music Hall

 Further information on this project’s solutions: www.wengercorp.com