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Helene

Four Seasons Centre

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I've been attending the Ring of the Nibelungen at the new Four Seasons Centre, and these are my impressions from the hall:

I'm sitting in the first row of the Ring 5 Centre. My row begins with seat 558; I'm 11 seats in, seat 548. Since the house is horseshoe shaped, if the tines are facing the stage, I'm sitting at the top right corner facing the stage, or with upstage center being 12 o'clock, I'm between 4 and 5 o'clock. There is a silver railing in front of me, but like on all of the rings, about 8" to a foot below, there is a second silver railing, on which lights are hung. The first railing cut off the stage left front and corner. I'm not sure how much ballet in performed that far downstage, but there were extended scenes in the Ring so far where I hunched a bit and squinted between the two railings to see the performers. To fit in 2000 people, the hall was built straight up. I'm not fond of heights, and the railing isn't very tall, so I've avoided looking straight down as much as possible.

I'm 5'5", and I'm not so sure the first row would be completely comfortable for a tall and/or long-legged person. Every noise in the theatre is amplified -- the acoustics are unbelievable -- and if you have long legs and have to shift your feet and you tap (or kick) the wall in front of you, it will resound. (If you wear rubber soles, and you move them against the wooden floor, they will squeeeeeeak.)

In front of each end of the horseshoe, close to the stage, there are vertical light banks. There is a short section of the horseshoe on all tiers but the fifth tier, in which there are boxes with six chairs. Then there is another floor-to-ceiling light bank, "covered" by open horizontal metal bars, just like the catwalk above the proscenium. The sides of the tiers, except for Ring 5, have moveable chairs. The first tier has boxes also with moveable chairs, with taller chairs, each of which has a stair/foot platform, in the back of the boxes. In the orchestra and all other tiers, the seating is fixed forward.

Around the front of each tier is a series of taupe stucco-looking sections, where the inner (facing center) end is less wide and thick than the outer end, and fits against the outer end of the adjacent section. The thicker outer end has three vertical "dots" and a curved edge; underneath is a white light source, which shines through the dots, and towards thinner end of the adjacent piece. With the blond wood of the floors, the matte silver railings, and the brownish apolstery, the effect is like soft sand dunes. While all designs eventually look dated, I think this hall will date gracefully, like Deco, compared to the High Kennedy style of the Met.

As one of six women in the Ladies room who was trying to balance a purse and a coat against the lovely stone-like long communal sink while washing her hands said, "A man designed this building." There are not enough Ladies room stalls per floor, and while the sink is aethetically pleasing, it is hopelessly impractical to anyone standing in the middle. (One woman told me that when the building opened, one was installed at the wrong angle, and the water splashed off the sloped walls and sprayed upwards. This was fixed.) On some floors, there were hooks on the stall doors that would barely hold a dish towel, let alone a purse or coat. (There are no separate purse shelves.) On the Ring 5 floor, the washrooms are on the left side facing the stage; to get to them from the right side, across the rather narrow passage between sides, and find the end of the line with a crowd storming towards you is impractical. Down the right side stairs to Ring 4 is the way to go. (Right to the washrooms, left to the bar.)

The box office is by the Queen Street entrance. There are three elevators, one on the Queen Street side, and two on the Richmond Street side. There is a long bar off the lobby, and side bars on the Ring 3 and Ring 4 tiers. The gift shop is toward the Richmond Street side, under the main staircase, also made of blond wood, with walnut slats at the end of each stair. The next staircase is made of a clear plastic-like material with a blue sheen and anti-slip textured dots, which is quite nice on the knees. The Amphiteater between the two bar floors is a great place to take one's coffee and tea box and nosh between acts; a narrow wooden staircase leads to the stair-seats in the Amphitheater and between Rings 3 and 4. Side staircases on either side connect Rings 4 and 5.

Unlike McCaw Hall in Seattle, where there's a beautiful, curved glass wall on one side -- where all the money went -- and the rest of the building looks like a dark blue/gray corrugated aluminum airplane hangar, the dark brick and glass Four Seasons Centre is a handsome building in itself, but at the same time, blends into the urban landscape. (Unfortunately, there's still sidewalk and street construction on two sides of the building, which prevents people from walking up to the front and looking in.) But from the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium, which is a series of triple-wide wooden steps between the third and fourth floors and whose outer wall is the glass front of the building, you can see the street, and the people on the street can see you, and when the midday (Tues/Thurs) and after-work (Wed) series begin, passersby will be able to see that there is life in the building, and after the construction is completed, I assume there will be signs inviting people in.

There is transparency in the building, which hopefully will allow some people to overcome the fear of entering a cultural landmark.

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Thanks for the architectural appreciation, Helene. The Four Seasons Centre's website offers separate "tours" of the interior and exterior of the building, as well as a zoom-in/zoom-out panorama of the auditorium.

I love the hall's near-neutral color scheme -- at least as it appears on the home page (it's a bit more vivid in the Quicktime interactive demo). It is easy to see -- after having read your description -- how the higher seats might be at a steep incline, and the troublesome bar is visible. But important features -- such as leg room and restroom design -- can't be judged from the site's tours. :wink: (Given the recent retrofitting of many New York City ladies' rooms, you'd think adequate facilities would not be an issue in a new, public building -- that it would be a given :blush: .) You've given practical pointers to 4SC visitors.

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I too strongly dislike heights - looking "waaaaay down" makes me feel as though I might be sick on the head of someone below. I'm extrememly nervous that I will never be able to sit in the floor level seats in this building due to price, not to mention that those seats would sell quickly to a popular show. My season's tickets are ring 3 (or is it 4?) Anyway, reading your impressions was informative. I just hope that this wonderful new Opera House with so much too offer doesn't end up being something of a let down to people due to some of the little issues...

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argh! I just saw spelling errors in my post. I HATE that.

I ALWAYS make spelling errors. Even if I proof the post before adding it, there are always some there.

BUT....thank god for the "edit" button. Often I can fix them before anyone sees them!

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A correction: there are actually five dots of light in each section. (I can't count anymore.)

Also, I was told today that the theater isn't actually finished, and that the two doors on Ring 5 theater right may eventually be an additional set of rest rooms.

The theater is very close to a number of restaurants. About four blocks west of the theater on Queen Street are a series of Indian restaurants. I tried two lunch buffets: Little India, where the selection was a little greater, and the food sweeter and more savory, and Trimurti, where the food was spicier. I stuck to the veggie entrees, and found the food at both very, very good.

There's also a restaurant called Korean BBQ Restaurant, where you can cook meat and fish at your own table on the built in grills, or order pre-made food. I chose an non-performance day to go there, because my clothes smelled like cooked meat when I was through :blush:

About a 10-minute walk north on University is Dundas Street, which is parallel to Queen Street. I took a left (west), walked a few blocks, and found a creperie in an art gallery. (I think it was called "Illy.") I had a lovely chicken breast with bittersweet chocolate crepe, with a slice of eggplant with some wonderful sauce on it and a green salad. A few more blocks west looked like the beginning of a section of Chinatown, but I was already cutting it a bit close timewise.

And of course there is the ubiquitous Tim Horton's. There is one about two blocks east of the theater on Queen, where thirty or so of my fellow Ring attendees retreated after Das Rheingold to munch on bagel sandwiches and doughnuts. The young woman behind the counter, who clearly HATED her job, didn't quite know what to make of us, but she better get used to it in that location.

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I was at the NBoC Gala in June and our seats were Ring Three (or Four...I forget which), about the 4th row I think and slightly off centre and we had serious sight line problems. The seats (at least where we were) are not staggered and the drop between rows not sufficient to give you a clear view over the head/shoulders of the person in front. I'm only 5' so I always expect to have difficulties, but the tallest of my group (5'10") also could not see the stage over the head of the lady in front of him. There were reports that some patrons on the main floor also complained that they had obscured sight lines as well. My subscription ticket is an aisle set on the main floor and I'm hoping that will give me a good view down to the stage - I'll find out for sure on Nov. 9th. Actually I'm going to the Oct. 23 preview along with a couple of friends and we're going to try out a number of locations.....put the tallest people in front and see if we can see! It's quite maddening isn't it....we wait so long for an Opera House and the experts can't get the sight lines right. I have no problem seeing the stage at the Premier Dance Theatre or Stratford's Festival Theatre - if those designers got it right why couldn't these fellows?

On the other hand, the accoustics really are wonderful - the Ballet orchestra never sounded so good. And I really like the "feel" of the house - it's soft and warm, very inviting.

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I saw the first weekend of Balanchine's Don Quixote from about half-way back in the Orchestra and about half-way from the center line to the side aisle, and from here the distance was just fine (indeed, I think I spotted Karen Kain keeping an eye on things from the end of my row or the next one), the dancing being more effective than from a comparable distance in the huge Edinburgh Playhouse in Scotland, or even from a little closer. The reason seems to be superior lighting, an aspect of the new theatre that hasn't been commented on. It's so good, it looked as though the costumes were made of richer materials than the ones I'd seen in Edinburgh, and the sets and props looked refreshed or repainted, when of course there's surely no money for that.

But I agree with the previous praise for the very agreeable color scheme in light wood and grey metal (no garish Lincoln-Center or Kennedy-Center red here, eh?) and the live acoustics. I too found sight-lines marginal. I'm a man who stands five-foot-ten, and only owing to some luck with the people sitting in front of me and the laterally offset seating was I not seriously blocked. A woman I know who stands five-foot-six sitting on the aisle a few rows closer did have to lean this way and then that to deal with the person in front of her, so I think Noreen Arnold's question is quite pertinent. (Even if it was only intended to be rhetorical.)

I have the opposite kind of question, about those acoustics: I had thought for years that good acoustics required good sight-lines, because otherwise the heads in front of you absorbed some of the sound which would have got to you in their absence, but here we have a challenge to that rule. (Those who want to dig into this might look for George Izenour's book, "Theatre Design" in the library; the price of the out-of-print first edition was up to US$105 recently, and the new second edition was US$216, IIRC. It was much cheaper when it first came out. *sigh* I recall that Izenour includes a treatment of John Scott Russell's 1859 "Isacoustic curve" concept in an appendix.) Nor is the ceiling low toward the front, which I also thought contributes. So how come the acoustics are so good? The other unusual thing about R. Fraser Elliott Hall in my experience is the bare floor, and I suspect the lack of absorptive material contributes to the liveness.

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