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Tour the Four Seasons Centre of the Performing Arts

I arrived at the Four Seasons Centre of the Performing Arts on a Saturday afternoon. The kind people at the Canadian Opera Company provided me with a free ticket in the hopes that I would write about my experiences. Admission is normally $7 for adults, $5 students/seniors and children under 12 are free. They offer two tours on Saturday, one at 11:45am and the other at 12 noon. I waited with a small crowd of people for the noon hour tour.

The doors opened and we walked into the City Room. It's enormous, something that doesn't come across well if you are looking in from University Avenue. The opera house has a strange spatial quality; it's hard to grasp just how big the building is. The stark black exterior and the large glass facade that runs parallel to University Avenue has a slimming effect.

Suspended steel crosses and horizontal glass shelves support large, highly transparent glass panels. Each panel has its own exterior shades that link to weather sensors. Using the sensor data, computers automatically control the City Room's environment by reducing heat gain when necessary. Our guide mentioned that this room was to create a feeling of openness and inclusion with the surroundings. These design goals corresponded with the goals of the COC which is striving to break the misconceptions of opera.

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The Canadian Opera Company uses outreach programs to help bring the opera to everyone. There are free lunchtime and evening concerts held in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre featuring all types of music and even a few lectures. Schools can take advantage of the education programs, workshops and tours.

The other standout feature in the City Room is the five story slatted wood wall. It separates the City Room from the R. Fraser Elliott Hall aka the auditorium. The wall can be thought of in terms of metaphor; it's the barrier between myth and reality. At least, that's what the tour guide said. It might sound silly now, but, when you're looking at it, a dramatic connection does seem appropriate.

We're lead up the beautiful hardwood stairs leading to the second floor landing, which houses a solitary statue in the corner. In the foreground is an amazing view of the CN Tower. I don't know why this view resonated with me so much; I've seen the tower from a similar position on University Avenue. My eyes wandered to a large parking lot and I wondered how long this view would last.

From the landing, we climbed the world's longest free spanning glass staircase. The staircase is hidden from the main floor, because there are no supporting structures underneath. It's self-supporting and has been load tested with 20,000 pounds of weight. At night the stairs light up; another cool feature of this record holder.

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The glass stairs lead to the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre where free concerts and lectures take place. (It's named after Conductor Richard Bradshaw who is the current General Director of the Canadian Opera Company.) The space accommodates 150 people and takes advantage of the glass wall. I can see great parties being held here. I'm even thinking about dropping the event planners at my work a little hint for the next Christmas Party.

Our tour pauses in another room that is primarily used for special functions. I'm getting impatient because I want to see the R. Fraser Elliott Hall. We're so close!

Before entering the auditorium, the tour guide explains that the auditorium, rehearsal hall and backstage are completely isolated from exterior noise and light. These three areas are designed as separate structures within the building. They sit upon over 500 rubber pads that don't transmit vibrations from the streetcar and subways. Double doors block light from entering the room.

The auditorium is build specifically for opera and is modeled on the traditional horseshoe configuration. This provides the audience with great views and ensures that each seat is as close to the stage as possible. The intimate space has 2071 seats. (For perspective, the MET in New York City has 1745 more seats.)

We sat on the fourth balcony and the view was excellent. There are no bad seats in the house. Care has been taken to ensure no poles or equipment block an audience members view. The layout definitely beats both Roy Thompson Hall and the Hummingbird Centre.

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The final stop on the tour was at Orchestra level. The Orchestra pit is adjustable and can accommodate large and small ensembles. With larger groups, the pit extends under the stage. The design strikes the perfect spatial balance between the singers, musicians and the audience.

In addition to the main stage, three full-sized stages allow other productions to play simultaneously in repertory. The new centre has lots of space to store sets. Unfortunately, the tour didn't take us to the backstage areas, but I guess that would ruin the mystique.

This tour definitely got me jazzed up to see a performance. I have plans to see La Traviata in May with a friend so I'll get to visit this breathtaking building again. For those of you that have no interest in Opera the tour is an excellent way to see Toronto's newest cultural addition. There are also the free concerts for the public in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. These shows feature dance as well as jazz, vocal, classical and world music.

People between the ages of 16 and 29 can take advantage of the New Age program. Tickets are $20 for all mainstage productions in designated sections of the auditorium. I wish I could take advantage of this offer. It's a great way to access the opera at a great price.

All pictures taken by me. You can view my other pictures.


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