The opera house that almost wasn’t will be a beautiful creature
My favourite Toronto opera house? No contest. There’s only one: the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Like a runty underdog that almost got drowned in a well and then was fed scraps, but that now promises to be a handsome and successful creature… well, you get the point. This is the White Fang of opera houses. It has risen from what might have been its own ashes, and now promises to be a thing of amazing grace and a credit to all Toronto, and Ontario, and Canada – even to those politicians (I know who you are) who cold-shouldered it and scoffed at it for years. But that’s another story. I ran into Jack Diamond, the architect, on a snowy street last winter. “I hear the Opera House is happening,” I said. “You must come and see it,” he said. So in the spring, I donned hard hat and safety boots and joined a queue of the curious. We waded into the jungle of pillars and wires and workmen, with Diamond leading. He got so carried away that he whipped off his own hard hat and beaned himself on a girder, but once the blood was staunched, he explained much.
This is a house that knows where it is: it’s in a city, and the city is Toronto. Instead of a 19th-century-style entrance staircase, you come in at street level, and the grand staircase is on the inside. A lunchtime performance venue is suspended in midair, visible and available. One big window space frames the CN Tower, another frames Osgoode Hall, yet another frames the Old City Hall.
A subway runs nearby, and to eliminate vibration the entire main auditorium rests on rubber feet, its walls not touching any exterior surface.
Every seat has a view of the stage, and the acoustics will be stunning. There will even be enough women’s washrooms – surely a worldwide first. The first people to see the house in operation will be the workers who are building it: there will be special hard-hat pre-performances just for them.
The April issue of Opera magazine, concluding its superlative review of the COC’s Ring Cycle so far and anticipating the fall 2006 opening of the Opera House with this very same Ring, says: “I hope Canadians realize how lucky they are.”
That remains to be seen, but we live in hope.
Margaret Atwood urges Torontonians not to undervalue our spectacular
new opera house.