Four Seasons Centre
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Four Seasons Centre seen from University Avenue with sun shades covering its glazed facade
|Address||145 Queen Street West
|Owner||Canadian Opera House Corporation|
|Opened||14 June 2006|
|Canadian Opera Company
National Ballet of Canada
|Four Seasons Centre|
The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts is a 2,071-seat theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada located at the southeast corner of University Avenue and Queen Street West, across from Osgoode Hall. The land on which it is located was a gift from the Government of Ontario. It is the home of the Canadian Opera Company (COC) and the National Ballet of Canada.
After various setbacks from the 1980s onward, attempts by the COC to find a new permanent home led to the company issuing an invitation in 2002 for designs. Ten architectural firms submitted proposals and, from them, the Canadian company Diamond and Schmitt Architects, headed by Jack Diamond, was selected as the winner for its modernist design.
The Centre had its grand opening on 14 June 2006, with regularly scheduled performances commencing on 12 September 2006 with the inaugural production in the new opera house being Richard Wagner’s epic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). Governor General Michaëlle Jean and numerous other Canadian luminaries attended the event. Three complete Ring Cycles were performed in September 2006.
It replaced the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (earlier named the Hummingbird Centre and O'Keefe Centre) that had housed the COC for some 40 years. Other venues used by the COC before the Four Seasons Centre was built include the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street and the Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street. Earlier in the city's history, the Grand Opera House stood at Bay and Adelaide until it was demolished in 1927.
Bay St proposal
There had been a long-standing desire to replace the O'Keefe Centre with lobbying led by financier Hal Jackman, president of the Ballet Opera House Corporation. In 1984, Ontario premier Bill Davis promised that a piece of provincial-owned land at Bay Street and Wellesley Street would be the home for the new opera house. The prime real estate was estimated to be worth some $75 million. A design competition was won by Moshe Safdie, who proposed a strikingly postmodern project. In 1988, the project was approved and the existing stores and government offices on the site were demolished.
The 1990 election brought a new provincial government under Bob Rae. The new NDP government found the $311 million project excessively costly, especially as the province was faced with a large deficit due to the recession. The province was also still dealing with the $550 million cost of the SkyDome project that had become a financial disaster for the government and it worried about a sequel. The government attempted to reduce the costs of the project, but the Opera House corporation refused to modify the design. Thus two months after being elected, the new government withdrew its funding commitment from the project. In 1992, the province finally cancelled the project and the land was sold to developers. Two towers in the "Opera Place" development have been built on Bay Street, but as of June 2011 the rest of the property remains vacant.
University Avenue project
In 1997, the province promised to give a parking lot, which previously housed offices for the Supreme Court of Ontario at Queen and University, for the project. The lot was valued at C$31 million, but the federal and provincial governments also pledged funding for a new more modest project that would only cost some $130 million. The original plan called for a 190 m (620 ft) tower of offices and condominiums to be built by Olympia and York which would help fund the project. It would be further supplemented by a $20 million donation by Christopher Ondaatje. However, both Olympia and York and Ondaatje developed concerns about the project and withdrew. More importantly, the municipal government of Mel Lastman refused to provide any municipal funding. Thus, the project collapsed again in 2000.
In 2002, the COC under Richard Bradshaw launched a new set of plans that included a $20 million donation from the Four Seasons hotel chain in exchange for perpetual naming rights to the complex. The COC organized a competition to select an architect for the new theatre, from which Canadian Diamond and Schmitt Architects was selected as the winner. The complex took three years to construct at an estimated cost of $181 million. Elevator access to the concourse level of Osgoode subway station was integrated into the construction of the Centre, which, along with an elevator to the platform level within the fare paid area, makes the station fully wheelchair accessible.
The auditorium is modelled after European opera houses. Collaborating with Diamond Schmitt, was New York-based theatre planning and design specialists Fisher Dachs Associates  so that the room’s geometry and seating configuration could bring every seat as close to the stage as possible.
The COC and its design team attempted to create the best natural acoustics possible, guided by acoustician Bob Essert of Sound Space Design and a team that included Aercoustics Engineering, Wilson Ihrig & Associates and Engineering Harmonics. The undulating back walls of the venue, which diffuse the sound throughout the auditorium by reflecting the sound waves back to the stage, account for about 90 percent of the audible sound for the audience.
R. Fraser Elliott Hall
The R. Fraser Elliott Hall has received great praise as one of the world’s best theatre spaces for a number of reasons.
Diamond’s design amplifies the idea of being close to the music by keeping the audience in literal close proximity to the stage. Each of the 2,000 seats, including the tiered balconies that start 27 m (89 ft) from the stage has an unobstructed view. In fact, fewer than one-quarter of the seats are further than 30 m (98 ft) from centre stage, thus maximizing a sense of intimacy between audience members and the performers. Every seat was computer-modeled in 3D to insure the best possible sightlines.
Another important factor of any theatre is the acoustics. Acoustician Robert Essert, of Sound Space Design Ltd, worked intently on not only the acoustics of the interior in order for the sound to reach every audience member equally, but also on blocking the noises and distractions from the Toronto cityscape. To prevent audience members from detecting specific sounds and vibrations including traffic noise, the rumble from the adjacent subway line and streetcar line, and even the sirens of the emergency vehicles rushing to the nearby hospitals, the theatre sits on 489 rubber insulating pads. Al Merson of the Four Seasons Centre said that "for opera, it is critical to carry all the subtleties, with sounds totally transparent and appearing to originate exactly where the director wishes. The Meyer Sound system accomplishes just that while keeping discreetly out of sight."
The hall’s horseshoe shape, with its five-tiered, horseshoe-shaped auditorium, was taken from European opera house design and other design elements were inspired by historic performance halls, including the Roman Amphitheatre. The hall's interior decor was also inspired by acoustic design: hardwood floors to absorb sounds, and textured walls made from plastered gypsum to reflect sound.
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The myriad different materials used within the FSCPA contrast and combine to create a multi-faceted piece of architecture. The most exquisite and detailed exterior cladding is also a central part of the architectural design: the City Room glass walls. These monumental transparencies are curtain walls held by steel fixtures. These apertures are situated on the University Ave and Queen St sides, with the dominant emphasis of the City Room towards University Ave. The intensity of the dark brick and lack of other cladding material on the East, South and North sides have been subject to scrutiny due to its perceived lack of interaction with the rest of the street. A major part of the argument presented is the North facing Queen Street side of the building which has a beautiful view of Osgoode Hall from inside the Four Seasons Centre, but from the Osgoode Hall side of the road, the view is less attractive. Billboards advertising city events, a coffee shop, a small retail area and vast brick wall do not engage the robust and animated nature of Queen St.
On a similar note, the solid, intimidating Eastern facing facade is a completely different atmosphere than the inviting, transparent Western facade. The West is the sidewalk extension City Room, which defines the structure in its context and illuminates the street, whereas the East blends too well into its office building and brick surroundings, offering no relief, but simply continuity to the adverse York Street. A multi-dimensional plane with several depressions covered in charcoal brick broken only by linear and longitudinal windows. John Bentley Mays states in his 2006 Canadian Architect article that East wall is “unresponsive to the need of vitality on the street.” The final facade in high criticism is the Southern, Richmond Street facing facade that is opposite the Hilton Hotel. This exterior wall does nothing to appeal to the buildings around it other than camouflage itself into the backdrop of office towers.
In retrospect, how Diamond defends his design choice does conclude an intelligent and conscious decision in its exterior design:
- [My critics] don’t get it. There’s a kind of provincial attitude out there what wants spectacle... they are aesthetic barbarians, fascinated by glass baubles. They want [architects] to shoot their bolt every time. Of course, there is a place for pavilion-like buildings. It depends on where they are, but you do not do it on every block. You do not make a city out of iconic pieces.
The points of interest in the above quotation are that this building is not a pavilion, it is a composition of squares designed to complement the geometry of Toronto’s Downtown grid and high rise architecture, the need for brilliance and extravagance on all the facades is negligible. The solidity of the North, East and South walls reinforce the voids in the City Room, truly allowing the space become an extension of the sidewalk and a light in the night time. It could be looked at in a way that the solid planes that are the less influential North, South and East facing walls guide pedestrians to the most fundamental side of the building, which is also the entrance.
Operatic and other production history
Outside of the standard repertory, some of the less-often performed, new works, or national premieres performed by the Canadian Opera Company include:
- 2006: First Canadian production of Richard Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen
- 2007: Lady Macbeth
- 2008: From the House of the Dead
- 2010: Maria Stuarda
- 2011: Iphigenia in Tauris
- 2012: Love From Afar
- 2012: A Florentine Tragedy/Gianni Schicchi
- 2012: Semele
Dancap Productions has also given presentations of musicals at the Four Seasons Centre, including:
Other performing arts venues in the city include:
- Eatock, Colin. "The COC builds its dream home," Queen's Quarterly, vol 113, no 4, winter 2006.
- Speirs, Rosemary (20 July 1988). "It's back to Bay St. for ballet-opera house". Toronto Star. p. A.1. Retrieved 2014-09-23. (subscription required (. ))
- Photograph of Safdie's model
- Maychak, Matt (10 November 1990). "Opera house may be dead as province backs out". Toronto Star. p. A1. (subscription required (. ))
- "Phantoms haunted COC's great vision". Toronto Star. 19 March 2000. p. Entertainment 1. Retrieved 2014-09-23. (subscription required (. ))
- "Installation Of Elevators At Osgoode Station" (PDF) (Press release). Toronto Transit Commission. 14 August 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 25, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
- "Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts R. Fraser Elliott Hall; 2006". Fisher Dachs Associates. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- "Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts". Sound Space Design. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- "Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto". Aercoustics Engineering. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- "Building Isolation". Wilson Ihrig & Associates. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- "Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts". Engineering Harmonics. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- Collins, Janet (21 June 2006). "Sound of Four Seasons". Architecture Week: B1. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- "Four Seasons Centre Fact Sheet". Canadian Opera Company. Retrieved 2012-12-12.
- "Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre" (PDF). Stage Directions. solangeDesantis.com. 2005. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
- Ashenburg, Katherine (July 2006). "The House That Jack Built". Toronto Life. Archived from the original on August 14, 2011. Retrieved 2012-12-12.
- "Toronto's Four Seasons Centre Achieves Natural Sound with Discreet Meyer Sound System". Meyer Sound. March 2007. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- Mays, John Bentley (September 2006). "The Look of Music: The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts". Canadian Architect. Retrieved 2014-09-23.
- Canadian Opera Company official website
- Four Seasons Centre official website
- Review construction progress
- Aercoustics Engineering Limited
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