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Opening of Renovated Seattle Opera House

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Marion McCaw Hall opened on Saturday night, 28 June, with an hour-ish-long gala. Between overly long video clips about the project was a program that tried to touch on all constituents: the orchestra played a rather sleepy new commission to open, Jane Eaglen, one of the three Seattle-based singers, opened with the now-obligatory "Dich Teure Halle," the chorus sang -- acoustics are wonderful --and then there was the dancing.

Nearly the entire PNB company was out for the end of the last movement of Symphony in C. This small excerpt confirmed that the Hall has a much more intimate feel and much improved sightlines. But what a tease to see such little of such a great piece! Patricia Barker was highlighted in a pas de deux from Carmina Burana. (Barker is like the Chrysler Building -- unique, luminous, always there, and taken as a given.) To get the kids in, Jodie Thomas (Butterfly) and Le Yin (Oberon) danced a wonderful performance of the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Balanchine) amidst the kid bugs. Unfortunately, it was lost on the Gala crowd, which, having already consumed an hour of (decent) pre-performance champagne, was impatient to regain the buzz and dig into the copious free food. The performance ended with the singers and the chorus joining PNB in the finale from Kent Stowell's Silver Lining.

Between the guests, the caterers, and PNB dancers who hung around in packs, the place was so crowded that my friend and I spent most of the post-performance night checking out every staircase, open door, and just about every seat in the Hall. One of the striking things about the new Opera House is that nearly every section flows into another. The end seats of the first few rows of the Orchestra are at Orchestra level; they then form a ramp of seats that meets the Dress Circle (first level up) to form the "Gallery Upper." I think these are going to be great seats for the ballet. The top (second) level flows down to the back rows of the first level side boxes, instead of being isolated as the "cheap seat" section.

The decor is made of bright scarlet walls on the upper interior, new turquoisy blue seats, and wood side boxes. The boxes are shaped a bit like the seats on a ferris wheel, which picks up the theme of the carousel Valkyries in the 1995 Ring Cycle. I don't know how the Hall will hold up -- lot's of MDF instead of wood -- but for now it's playfully luxurious.

The next day, there was an all-day open house in the Hall. Seattle was invited to walk around the lobbies, halls (concert and lecture), and backstage. It was amazing to see the backstage improvements -- dressing rooms on the ground floor, with showers and electric pianos, a loading dock the size of the stage, twice as much lighting, fly space into the sky. Apparently nearly no artistic considerations took place during the early 1960's remodel for the World's Fair, but this reconstruction creates a place that respects the artists and craftspeople who will work there.

I hope everyone who has the chance pays a visit to Seattle to see PNB in their new home.


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Thank you for posting the link, Francis, and thank you for your wonderful description, Helene -- you really caught the atmosphere. I know that PNB has had a rather hard time the past few seasons -- I think every company that's gone through a theater renovation has -- and I'm sure all of us hope the next season, in the new digs, will mark a turning point in its fortunes. From what I've read, the DANCING hasn't suffered; it's just that the audience has fallen off a bit. I'll look forward to reading your reviews when the season gets going in earnest, Helene!

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